Testimony in murder case set to begin tomorrow morning
RICHLAND CO.—There was more talk about fear of retribution from prospective jurors today in what was the final day of jury selection in the case of the Texas man charged with First Degree Murder after he was attacked in the parking lot of his hotel by a group of thugs during which he fired a handgun in self defense.
Dead is 23-year-old Michael Scott Earp who was killed by a single gunshot to the abdomen fired by 35-year-old Brandon Jenkins after Jenkins found himself cornered in his vehicle with the group trying to get at him.
Jenkins is also charged with Aggravated Battery, Aggravated Discharge of a Firearm and Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Firearm.
For the second day in a row elected state’s attorney David Hyde, who saw fit to file charges in the first place, sat like a deaf mute shuffling papers for appellate prosecutor David Rands as Rands did all the work inquiring of prospective jurors.
Once again attorneys for both sides, Rands for the prosecution and John O’Gara for the defense, along with circuit judge Larry Dunn asked the prospectives about their relationship, if any to any of the active participants in the case.
In first set of 12 prospectives of the day contained several who knew either Earp or one of his thug buddies.
Prospective #2 said she knew both Jenkins and Earp who both frequented local convenience store she worked at.
She went on to describe Jenkins as always being “very polite” but didn’t have the same flattering comments about Mr. Earp.
“When he came in he always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder,” #2 told judge Dunn. “Other employees have said he would come in to the store and always be rowdy.”
She said she also knew Donna Brassie who is on the witness list and said she didn’t know if she could be fair about weighing Brassie’s testimony because she knew the woman to be a liar.
“I know she’s always been a trouble maker and I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock in anything she said,” #2 commented.
Propsective #1 said she knew Michael Scott Earp from school and said, “He would always rile people up.”
Prospective #11 said she “feared” what might happen to her family if she were to cast a not guilty verdict in the case and prospective #12 said he was “scared to serve” on the jury, adding that he was scared for his family.
During an afternoon NewsBlast taped live outside the courthouse, a report that the word “Retaliation” was actually used by one of the prospective jurors was an error. That specific word was not used.
By noon all but two of the prospectives were excused.
Following a generous lunch break, the remaining 15 prospective jurors were seated and the round of questions began again.
One of the continuing themes in questioning from Rands to the prospectives was on the subject of alcohol.
“Now there is going to be testimony that some of the witnesses were drinking that night,” Rands began, “is that going to be an issue for any of you jurors? Will it cause you to give their testimony less credibility simply because alcohol was used?”
There have been a handful of prospectives who said they couldn’t be fair to a witness if they had been consuming alcohol the night of November 20, 2011.
On the hole, however, most said they could give the testimony the weight they felt it deserved not necessarily discounting testimony because alcohol was consumed.
On the flip side, many prospectives also said they wouldn’t completely discount the use of alcohol either.
“Well that’s what we are asking for here,” Rands said. “We just want you to be fair to both the prosecution and the defense.”
Probably one of the biggest issues to come out of jury selection is the subject of concealed carry in the State of Illinois.
When Rands asked each panel over the past two days if they thought Illinois, the only state that doesn’t allow concealed carry, should change the law an overwhelming majority said yes.
In fact, one of the prospectives when asked by judge Dunn told the judge point blank that he would not follow the current law as regards to carrying a firearm in this state.
“I could not vote to send a man to jail for carrying a gun,” the prospective said.
Dun explained that the jury didn’t actually send anyone to jail.
“That would be decided by me during sentencing,” Dunn said.
“I don’t care, I will not vote guilty on a man for carrying a gun,” the prospective continued. “The [United States] Constitution says we can carry but the state says we can’t. I think that’s wrong.”
At the end of the cordial discussion judge Dunn earnestly thanked the prospective for his honesty and candor.
Of course, that prospective was one of them excused from jury duty.
With a very few exceptions, the mild mannered defense attorney John O’Gara, got the same positive results when he when he asked the prospectives if they believed an individual had a right to defend themselves.
Nearly every prospective juror also said they believed an individual had the right to use deadly force if they felt their life was being threatened.
O’Gara has made it clear that he intends to prove without a shadow of a doubt that Brandon L. Jenkins was under attack by the group Michael Scott Earp was with, that he was cornered and feared for his life.
Opening statements are expected to begin tomorrow morning.
There will be no testimony Friday.
The case is scheduled to resume Monday and expected to be handed to the jury for deliberation by Wednesday.
“Of course,” Dunn added, noting things can always change. “It will take as long as a fair trial takes.”
Publisher’s Note: We are putting together a PodCast tonight focusing solely on this case. It will be available online just as soon as we can get it there. There will also be NewBlasts taped live from the courthouse several times each day as breaks in the testimony allows.
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