By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A jury is expected to be selected this morning in the depraved-heart murder trial of Thomas J. Ward of Saltillo.
Circuit Judge James L. Roberts Jr. guided the jury process throughout the day Tuesday at the Lee County Justice Center. He said the trial is likely to last at least this week.
A 100-person jury pool answered roll, with final winnowing questions from the judge and attorneys yielding a 59-person panel from which 12 jurors and three alternates will be chosen.
Ward, who maintains his innocence, was indicted in the 2010 shooting death of 20-year-old Itawamba Community College student Anna Catherine McCoy.
From jury-pool questions by his attorney, Victor Fleitas of Tupelo, it’s clear the defense will seek to convince the jury that McCoy’s death was a tragic accident, not murder.
Prosecutors are District Attorney Trent Kelly and his assistants, Richard Bowen and Josh Wise.
As the attorneys sought to learn about the prospective jurors, changing communication technology took center stage late Tuesday.
Fleitas spent a long time asking questions about online news readership, and use of social network sites Facebook and Twitter.
Several prospective jurors admitted they were Facebook friends with a few of the state’s prospective witnesses, including Lee County Coroner Carolyn Gillentine-Green and McCoy’s father, Cotton McCoy.
No possible jurors said they formed any kind of opinions about the case from what they’d read on the Internet, watched on TV or read in the Daily Journal.
Months ago, Fleitas asked the court to move the trial out of Lee County because, he said, of extensive pretrial publicity.
Names of possible witnesses were read by Roberts to determine if anyone in the jury pool knew any of them or were related in some way. Generally, the answers were no.
But in reading out the names, Roberts revealed that controversial medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne will be among them, as well as both of McCoy’s parents and an expert from the National Center for Physical Acoustics at the University of Mississippi, which studies sound.
Among the unusual responses from prospective jurors was from a woman, who said she served last year on a jury drawn from Lee County for a trial in Lafayette County, and that the experience was so emotional for her that she couldn’t sleep for a while. She agreed she likely wouldn’t be a good juror this time.