UPDATE: Blount jury seated, testimony begins

By Patsy R. Brumfield / Daily Journal

GREENVILLE – Kim Korthuis, Tupelo’s Trace supervisory ranger, said Monday he thought Wendell Blount was in shock, not chemically impaired, when Korthuis spoke with him soon after Blount’s SUV struck and killed a Dutch cyclist in April 2009 near Houston.

Korthuis, one of the first people to arrive at the accident scene, said he believed that if Blount were noticeably impaired, his investigator would have included it somewhere in his report.

Blount is on trial on federal manslaughter charges in the death of Dutch citizen Ester Hageman, who was alone and riding a bike on the Natchez Trace that sunny day April 22.

He faces up to 33 years in prison and $500,000 in fines, if convicted.

About 2 p.m., a 12-member jury was seated – six men and six women.

U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper Jr. is presiding.

In opening statements mid-afternoon, prosecutor Robert Mims said the government will prove Blount was impaired by morphine when his vehicle struck Hageman’s bike. “Very high” is how he described the drug in Blount’s system.

Defense attorney David Hill of Oxford told the jury that Blount has taken medication for many years for chronic pain and that the blood-content is not high for Blount, as it would be for non-users.

“The government must prove impairment, not just a number,” Hill said.

Also testifying late Monday was Chickasaw Coroner Andy Harmon, who said he changed his report on Hageman’s cause of death from “pending” to “homicide” when he received information about his morphine levels.

The trial is expected to continue all week.

• For more details, read Tuesday’s Daily Journal.