Ward trial: Jury pool to return Wednesday morning

By Patsy R. Brumfield / Daily Journal

5:01 P.M. POST
TUPELO – Fifty-nine potential jurors were sent home for the night, to return at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the depraved-heart murder trial of Thomas J. Ward.
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4:13 P.M. POST
TUPELO – Questions about Internet news sites and Facebook “friends” became important today as state and defense attorneys sought to select a jury in the depraved-heart murder trial of Thomas J. Ward.
Ward of Saltillo stands accused in the 2010 shooting death of Anna Catherine McCoy.
Prosecutors are District Attorney Trent Kelly, assistants Josh Wise and Richard Bowen. Ward is represented by Tupelo attorney Victor Fleitas. Judge James L. Roberts Jr. presides.
(This report picks up after a 60-member jury pool’s lunch break. Please excuse the typos and glitches likely to occur as I type rapidly. Today’s earlier sessions can be found at the tail-end of this report, starting with the latest through the first. Feel free to e-mail me your questions at patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com or follow/DM me on Twitter.com @realnewsqueen, or Facebook, as well as trial updates @DJournalnow)
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1:30 – Judge returns, confers briefly with attorneys. All jury pool members back. Judge thanks them for courtesy and promptness.
Says court asked them about potential witnesses for the state. I have witness list for defendant: Joe Guyton, Josh VanDyke, Zach Hill, Josh Poppelreiter, Dr. James Laurichson, Joseph Saloom, Richard Earnest, (some from out of town). Judge asks again if anybody knows these people or have any relationships with any of them. (No response from pool.)
Asks about previous jury service and that experience, especially poor experience. Woman says she served on a Lafayette County jury last year and was unable to sleep for a while, had some emotional problems from it. Says she doesn’t know if this will affect her, but hopes not (her voice chokes with emotion.) I don’t think I would be a juror, she says.
Asks if ever party to a lawsuit and had bad experience to harm jury experience.
Asks about media coverage of this case and if have a fixed opinion about it. (No one responds.) Anybody forms opinion of guilt or innocence, that can’t be set aside? State must prove its case against Mr. Ward. He doesn’t have to open his mouth. He sits before you an innocent person. (No response.) Anybody heard anything in media, which affects you such that you couldn’t fairly serve? (Heads shake, otherwise no oral response.) Anything you’ve seen or heard or learned in any way … to create a bias or hostility against Mr. Ward? He’s entitled to absolutely a fair trial. Any bias or knowledge of hostility against Mr. Ward? (No response.)
Any of you claim to have any personal knowledge of the facts of this case? Anybody talked to you or attempted to talk to you about this case? (Man says kids talk about it. They’re about same age as Miss McCoy. Still says he probably isn’t a good juror.) Previously upset woman tried to tell him same, but judge says her information isn’t necessary – (likely means she won’t be a juror.)
Anybody attempted to talk to you about this? Heard case talked about by someone who claims to know about this case? (Woman – work with Mr. Ward’s wife. Didn’t realize it until recently. Says jury duty might make it uncomfortable back at work, after the fact.)
FLEITAS asks to approach and talk to judge. State attys come with him.
Judge – moving along. Anybody heard anything from anybody who says they thought they knew something about this case? That would influence you? (No response.)
Ward is cloaked with presumption of innocent. Indictment is a formal method of bringing charges against citizens. It is just a charge, not proof of guilt. Only an accusation. You all understand that? Anybody feel he’s guilty because he’s been indicted? (No response.)
State must prove his guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt. Any of you have opinion about how this should be decided or about his guilty or innocence? (No response.)
Ever been victim of a crime of a similar nature, especially one that would affect you so you couldn’t be impartial as a juror? (No response.) Anybody have law enforcement in your background, family or close kinship to law enforcement? (Man, 2 women stand up. One woman has son in highway patrol. Man’s former police officer. Other woman says husband retired Natchez Trace lawman. None says it would affect their service on jury.) Another man stands – says nephew is Lee justice judge. Won’t affect him, he says. Woman says late father-in-law was FBI here. Wouldn’t affect her, she says.
Are you prohibited from sitting in judgment of a fellow human? (No response)
Explains to them about court instructions that will come at end of trial. Asks them that they will follow the instructions, even if you disagree with them? (Heads nod.)
Anything else, someone wants to say? Man stands up – McCoy family’s aunt is a dear friend of mine. Says possibly a problem as a juror. Another man – went to school with Anna McCoy. Says would influence him in this case. Third man – says he’s a counselor and would be difficult to sit on jury, trained to see body language about whether someone is telling truth or not. Would be very difficult for me to turn off my legal mind.
BOWEN – We have a few questions.
1:59 – Alludes to DA’s experience in National Guard. Will that make a difference for you? (Woman says son in guard, she doesn’t know Kelly or doesn’t think son knows Kelly. Won’t affect her service, she says.)
Other assistants in DA’s Office – calls their names – asks if anybody close friend with them? (Same woman says John Weddle’s children go to school where she works. Would make no difference, she says. Another woman says she knows Kelly, worked for him when he worked at McRae’s. Wouldn’t affect her service, she says. Man – friends with Josh Wise’s brother. Acquaintance with Josh. Wouldn’t affect him in case, he says. Another man – knows Kelly from biz dealing years ago. Friendly relationship then. Wouldn’t affect his decisions in case, he says.)
Bowen notes he was an asst DA years ago. Asks if anybody remembers him? (No response) Also was a circuit judge – anybody remember me as that? (No response)
Asks about Victor Fleitas, in practice in Tupelo for a while. Associated with others, like Jim Waide. Anybody remember that he represented you, close family or friends etc.? (Woman stands up – Waide’s office did a case for my husband. Don’t know if Fleitas included, about 3-4 years ago. No bearing on decision in case, she says.)
Says we’ll explain what depraved-heart murder is later on. State’s burden is to prove the charges. If state proves “beyond a reasonable doubt,” is there anyone who couldn’t return a verdict of guilty? FLEITAS OBJECTS – IMPROPER HYPOTHETICAL. NOT PROPER ON VOIR DIRE.
Judge – you will be instructed as law by the court. Bowen has phrased what Fleitas believes to be an improper statement. I’m not going to dispute, but I will allow him to go into that matter when he conducts voir dire, if should do so.
Bowen – will you follow instructions of the court in that regard? If are convinced that we have proved case, beyond reasonable doubt, will you vote guilty? Are there any of you who couldn’t? Or can’t sit in judgment of your fellow man? (No response – Now, a woman – says I can’t pass judgement on anybody. Man – says same reason. Couldn’t do that, personal reasons.)
Asks if anybody knows Ward’s wife. (Woman says yes – considers her a close friend. Didn’t know she was married to him until about four weeks ago. Jury decision could cause discomfort, I know it would. I would feel guilty.)
Asks if anybody knows his father, Thomas W. Ward of Saltillo. (No response.)
Anybody have problems with hearing what I’ve said so far? (Man – I have a hearing problem. I hear you but I’m not understanding everything you say. Don’t wear a hearing aid. Asked for retirement this week, some to do with hearing problem.)
2:26 – Any of you have emergencies or commitments you’ve thought about since judge asked you about this trial – this week and maybe part of next week? (Man – Have new physical therapy sessions set up. Woman – got call about picking up daughter in Verona. Problem getting children to and from school.)
Asks if anyone related on this jury pool? (No response) Is there any question you need to tell us that we haven’t asked about? (Woman – if verdict for death penalty …. JUDGE – The death penalty is not involved in this case.)
2:32 – FLEITAS to question jury pool.
Says practicing law here about 16 years. Not originally from Tupelo. This is extremely serious matter that you’ll be asked to consider. Before coming here today, all of you got jury summons from court to be here. That you better show up. Question is – anybody before coming here, who had an inkling or knowledge of what cases might be presented today? (Woman – Tried to put 2 and 2 together. Overheard Ward’s wife talking. I just knew that’s what it was going to be.)
Anyone who woke up, drank their coffee, picked up the Daily Journal and looked through it. Knew you had jury duty and realized what you might consider today? Read paper this morning? (Man – I saw article. Part of routine. Mostly read headline. Connection between my being on jury duty and headline. DJ subscriber probably since 1968.) What about TV news? (Not really.) Roberts asked if you recollected accounts about this matter? (Yes, just when it happened, to my recall. Read … don’t remember details, just charges, the alleged murder.) Form any opinion? (I did not.) Express any attitude? In your mind? Read in paper, in any way, about accounts that brings you here thinking one way or the other? (No.)
Asks that question in part to jog some of your memories … or that other questions. How many of youare regular Daily Journal subscribers? BOWEN – OBJECT. Fleitas says that’s about half. BOWEN says didn’t see that many.
FLEITAS – Let me ask that again. I’ll count how many of you are regular subscribers. BOWEN – Says it does appear to be closer to half, now that I see them. FLEITAS – I don’t want to make misrepresentations. JUDGE – KEEP YOUR HANDS UP, both sides count.
FLEITAS – I count 21 – one third of venire (jury pool.)
FLEITAS – Same question asked: Anybody have recollection of having read news articles or anything having to do with this matter in the newspaper, bfore coming here today. (Woman – recollected news when it happened. Not affected here today. Woman – Remember, when it happened. No impact, coming here today. Man – Remember when tragedy occurred. Remember article, few details. I live near here and went home for lunch, saw article then. By then, knew what was here for.) Fairness means that you don’t have predisposition, one way or another. Anything about that account, have you consider one side more valuable than another? (Man- no) (Woman – Recall when happened, maybe several months later, not sure what was about. No pre-judgment about this case. Man – Read paper most every day. Remember articles about this. Didn’t come to any conclusions about this. Not affected one way or other. Another man – I read the online edition. Another man – Read account, about three. No prejudgment about this case.)
Now, about online edition. How many? (Several people say they read it that way. Haven’t formed any opinions about the case.)
What about TV coverage? Anybody recalls watching coverage of this on TV? (5 say yes. Generally, recall on news when incident happened. Say didn’t bias them one way or another. Man says remembers on news. Doesn’t remember specific details, although lives close to where death occurred.)
How many have Facebook account? (Some hands?) How many recall seeing any accounts, having friends comment about them, anybody saying they knew something about this through FB? (No response.) How about Twitter? (Some have Twitter accts. Didn’t see anything there.) Anybody has a direct connection, Friend or Follows, any individuals that Judge says are potential witnesses in case? (Man – Friends with Carolyn Green on FB. Don’t remember who Friended who.) What about Cotton McCoy? (No, certain.)
Anybody accused of doing something you didn’t do? (Man – barely raises hand, doesn’t stand yet. Now, he stands up. Says Fleitas sued him through employer.) Would that cause you to hold it against my client? (No. Absolutely not.)
Any been victim of violent crime, judge asks. I’m asking if anyone has even been a victim of a crime – offense perpetrated against you. Somebody charged, maybe nobody charged? (No response.)
Situation has been described in various ways. How many of you are parents? (Nearly everybody raises hands.) This case involves the loss of a child. I have three sons, haven’t had a daughter. Mr. McCoy and Mrs. McCoy are listed as potential witnesses. Proper for you to have compassion for someone who has suffered that loss. Is there anything about that circumstance … the loss of a child … that cause you hesitation to be a juror in this case? That’s perfectly fine it you do. But in this case you’ll have to deal with that emotional situation directly. Anyone think they can’t serve on this jury or would prefer not to serve on it? (Woman – prefer not to, don’t want to pass judgment. Have four children and don’t think I have an open mind.) Don’t think you can be fair? (I don’t think so.)
Judge says no wrong answers here. Only wrong thing to do is to end of on jury, having not spoken freely and honestly about how you really think about this and carrying that to the jury room.
Anyone who does not believe they can listen to facts and render a just verdict under the facts and the law?(No response.)
How many of you are gun owners? (About a third.) Owners, any of you consider yourself something of an authority on firearms? (Man – long history of use of firearms. Used to hunt. About 60 years experience with firearms. Firm opinions about use and safety of firearms.) Some witnesses will be presented as experts in field of firearms. re you going to be able to listen to the testimony and listen with an open mind. (I’m not an expert.) What about distance-range testing? (I’m former military, I have all kinds, shooting distances.) Look at evidence with clear mind? (Can.)
Relationships with Cotton, Allison or Anna McCoy? (Woman – it’s kind of distant relationship. Nothing’s been brought to her attention. Man – Friends with Randy McCoy. Not sure about his relationship to them. Didn’t get any information about this situation through him.)
3:14 – Fleitas follows up with questions from earlier responses, chiefly to clarify depth of relationships mentioned with McCoy family, prosecutors, potential witnesses.
Tells jury pool, that if selected, will be asked to consider several things:
1. Did Thomas commit depraved heart murder? 2. Was what happened that tragic night an accident, not a crime? Will be asked to consider that.
I will ask this: If you’re on jury, did the events constitute an accident? You ahve a young lady by all accounts is beautiful young girl and she is dead. She is somebody’s daughter. Your duty one way or the other will be to decide was this murder, an accident or something else? Is anyone here who feels that based on circumstances … tragically dea, young woman .. who feels “there’s not way” could find it was an accident? You’re going to be asked that question. Is there anyone who feels that if the evidence supports conclusion it was accident, feels “I just can’t do that”? (no responses) Anybody feel like “I cannot sit on this case? (One response – woman who won’t be chosen anyway.)
Sorry it’s taken so long – no offense, but it’s time that must be taken. If you’re on jury, you’ll be here 4-5-6 days. You may not like my hair, my tie, that I’m doing what I’m doing … is there anyone who because of something I’ve said,done, way I look, that feels that my client’s representation would be harmed by having me as his lawyer? Anyone feel that way? (No responses)
Next Q: Thomas James WArd sitting there better part of the day. I’m sure at some point, each of you has taken a look at him. Only human nature. In your heart of hearts, is there anyone who for whatever reason looking at him comes into this case with the possibility of being selected on jury, just not liking him? Anyone? You don’t even have to justify it. Who cannot … do justice by my client? (No responses)
3:37 – Fleitas takes a few seconds to talk to Ward. Asks to approach bench. Prosecutors join him.
3:38 – Judge – bear with us. Know you understand this is extremely serious matter. We’ll soon take a break.
FLEITAS – Asks young man in pool, are you friends with Cotton McCoy on FB? (Man – no, mainly use FB as advertising. Don’t know half of them.) No furhter questions.
3:39 – Judge – Any member of panel who cannot and fairly and impartially return verdict … or anything else you need to tell me … not previously mentioned? (No responses.)
3:44 – Judge – thanks again to jury pool. Want to be as correct as we can. Work that must be done outside your presence. Some requires period that’s difficult to determine. I’m trying to decide if we can get this done or require you to return in morning. First, you’ll get immediate break. When you come back, sit in same seat. Also do you discuss case with anyone. Do not do anything technologically.
Break until 1 hour. Will know by then whether we can seat jury today or not.
Judge – look at No. 26 no any objection to releasing lady? State/defense – no objection.
Counsel, take time for challenges for cause. State first, then defendant.
BOWEN – Will you tell us ones you want to strike? That will help us. (Judge lists about 5)
KELLY – No objection to those you have listed. State also asks to strike for cause – plus 5 comes to 10.
FLEITAS – Cites others – adds up to about 12 to strike.
Then, Fleitas asks for one more to be struck because he is friends with Cotton McCoy on Facebook. I understand how it works. Doesn’t indicate the degree to which relationship exists, but I understand his explanation that as a businessman he Friends lots of people. But he also was asked a specific question on matter of that import, I believe his answers were not correct.
KELLY – We would like to see it (Fleitas’ evidence about this potential juror). (Fleitas says they share four Friends.) These days, having 800 Facebook friends is like living in a neighborhood – you may not even know those people. Don’t think it makes you friends. Don’t think he intentionally misrepresents to the court.
FLEITAS – Exact number of Friends is 638. With respect to basic issue, he is Friends with Cotton McCoy. Relationship on FB is an affirmative act. One sends request, other accepts request. I don’t know what’s in his mind. May not even be relevant for challenge for cause. Witness under oath asked question … it’s demonstrable that his answer was not correct. Thnk he’s appropriately challenged for cause. I mean juror.
JUDGE – I’m not FB literate. Understands how it operates. Understands man said he had several hundred FB friends. Said he was in business and used FB for business purposes. Didn’t say initially he was friends with Cotton McCoy. Said didn’t have further contact with Cotton McCoy. Don’t recall his sayng he could not be fair. Challenge is denied.
4:10 – RECESS, take break and let’s try to get this work done.
COURT IN RECESS.
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12:08 P.M. POST
TUPELO – Potential jurors took a lunch break to be back by 1:30 p.m. in the depraved-heart murder case of the State v. Thomas J. Ward.
Ward of Saltillo stands accused in the 2010 shooting death of Anna Catherine McCoy.
Before that break, a lengthy list of potential witnesses was read and questions asked about any relationships.
Among those potential witnesses are McCoy’s parents, controversial medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne and a sound expert from the National Center for Physical Acoustics at the University of Mississippi.
Prosecutors are District Attorney Trent Kelly, assistants Josh Wise and Richard Bowen. Ward is represented by Tupelo attorney Victor Fleitas. Judge James L. Roberts Jr. presides.
(This report picks up after a 60-member jury pool’s break. Please excuse the typos and glitches likely to occur as I type rapidly. The morning’s first session can be found at the tail-end of this report. Feel free to e-mail me your questions at patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com or follow my Twitter.com fees @realnewsqueen, or Facebook, as well as trial updates @DJournalnow)
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11:15 – Judge back. Defendant returns to courtroom. Brief attorney conference with judge.
Judge – Opening day of Lee County’s May term of circuit court. Jury pool is seated before the court. State of MS versus Thomas James Ward is the case before the court.
He introduces defendant and attorneys to the jury pool. Bowen says state is ready to proceed. Fleitas says defense is ready. “The Rule” is invoked, which means witnesses will not be allowed in the courtroom until after they complete testimony.
Judge tells jury pool new questioning will begin by the attorneys, another step in the procedure to select the jury for the case. May be something that could disqualify you in this case, he says. Chiefly, to discover is you have any personal knowledge or connections with this case. Necessary to ensure each party a fair trial.
Jury will consist of 12 regulars and 3 alternates.
This is a criminal case, he says. This is a case wherein it’s alleged that Ward on April 15, 2010 … did kill and murder Anna Catherine McCoy … while he was acting in commission of a dangerous act. Without premeditation. Pointed loaded pistol at her and pulling trigger, resulting in her death.
Reminds jury that next questions aim to select a fair jury, impartial as is humanly possible. Says attorneys are accomplished and skilled. This case in some ways is a bit longer than others, to time required to try. All cases are important. This one certainly is. We can’t rush. It’s easy to act in haste, but if that be done, we might have to re-do and undo. Always better to act on side of caution. As best I can, I’m going to do that. I know you will too.
We’re all human, and see the clock. Lunch hour approaches. We’ll stop and take lunch break. I don’t want you to be concerned about those kind of things. Will take a considerable time to select this jury. We are concerned for your comfort and convenience, and will pay attention to that. But we will move along as best we can to do the work.
I’ve read the indictment to you – it’s just a charge. Mr. Ward is not guilty of anything as he sits before you. It’s just a charge. Bear in mind, with these questions, there are no right or wrong answers. If you feel need to respond, please stand, give your name and answer what you believe you should answer. Cautions jury pool that court reporter must take down what they say – speak as distinctly as you can. Must have a good record. Cautioned them not to speak while someone else is speaking.
Told you already the lawyers involved in this case. Re-introduces Kelly, Bowen and Wise for State of Mississippi. Defense with Fleitas. All very good at what they do.
Judge – takes them through various questions about connections with lawyers, etc. One man, an attorney, says he knows them all but that he could be a fair juror. Woman worked with Kelly when he was a city prosecutor, says she could be fair.
Defendant Thomas James Ward stands. Judge asks if anybody is related by blood or married to him, or close friends. (no answers)
Fairly lengthy list of potential witnesses, the judge says. I’ve been provided a list, provided by prosecution. Whether they will be called is a matter of trial strategy. Will read this list: Potential witnesses by state – Saltillo police, Mark Haygood, Princess Brown, Heath Gobbell, Davis Lindsey, John Price, Steve Brooks, Grant Bailey. Saltillo fire dept. – Mark Nowell, Carey Wages, Adam Mallett, Richie West. Lee sheriff’s – Joseph Giroux. Crime lab – Amanda McCool, Jamie Robinson, Paul Wilkerson, Jr. Colleen Coley, Joseph Heflin, Shannon Roy; Mark Bowacle, Starks Hefcock, Alisa Smith, Jacob Burchfield, Brian McIntyre. MS Bureau of Investigation – Paul Moore, Chris Jones. MS Crime analyst Dewanna Boughton. Lee Coroner Carolyn Gillentine Green. MS Med Examiner’s Ofc – Dr. Adele Lewis. Also, Dr. Christopher Long, Dr. Steven Hayne, Paul Smith (From Smith&Wesson training academy), Michael Rowe (Tupelo Custom Weaponry), Jeremy Webster (National Center for Physical Acoustics, Ole Miss), Thomas W. Ward (defendant’s father), Adam Foreman, Linzie Holland, Ginny Lloyd, Megan Riley, Sarah Littlejohn, Paul Harkins, Madison Raines, Cotton McCoy (Anna McCoy’s father), Allison McCoy (Anna’s mother).
Asks pool about any relationships with any of them. Would it embarrass or affect you, if called upon to serve?
Nine people stood up when asked about Anna McCoy’s parents. Mixed answers about whether each would be influenced if called upon to serve on the jury – some said it would, other not. Most know Cotton McCoy, who was a Tupelo police officer.
12:04 – Judge to jury pool – appreciate your attentiveness. Going to take some period of time to complete this work. Unless object, I will declare a noon recess. Be back and seated by 1:30 p.m. We must most as expeditiously as we can. Will take some time. Want to move as far as we can today.
The judge warned them not to use their cell phones in any “way shape or form.” No photos, can’t look up anything. That’s black and white instruction. You cannot use that device in any way concerning this trial or people here.
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10:56 A.M. POST
TUPELO – Thomas Ward wasn’t in the Lee County courtroom early this morning as selection began for a jury, which will decide his fate.
But he entered about 10:54 for the rest of the selection process. He wore black trousers and an apple-green dress shirt with a striped green tie.
About 10:50, Judge James L. Roberts Jr. sent the 60-member jury pool out for a break while he, Clerk Joyce Loftin and attorneys for both sides handled what he termed “administrative matters” for the court.
• Come back to DJournalnow or read Patsy Brumfield’s Tweets on Twitter.com @realnewsqueen #Wardtrial.
Ward of Saltillo is charged with depraved-heart murder, which means such callous disregard for human life that it results in a death.
Anna Cahterine McCoy was a 20-year-old student at Itawamba Community College when she died of a gunshot wound at Ward’s home April 15, 2010.
He was indicted Oct. 5, 2010, and insists he is innocent.
Tupelo attorney Victory Fleitas represents Ward. Prosecutors are District Attorney Trent Kelly and Richard Bowen and Josh Wise, assistant district attorneys.
Circuit Judge James L. Roberts Jr. presides. The trial is expected to last at least several days this week.
(Below is a running account of today’s courtroom action. Please excuse the typos and glitches likely as I type as rapidly as possible.)
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9:25 – Circuit Clerk Joyce Loftin says 250 called for jury duty. After accepted excuses, 100 in courtroom this morning.
Judge Roberts enters, Kelly/colleagues, Fleitas to handle jury selection. Ward not in courtroom.
Judge speaks to potential jury members. Says he always enjoys coming to Lee County. Praises court officers. Business of court, of course, is extremely serious, he reminds them. It’s a criminal-case week. Says at least one case will be tried. Talks to them about jury service and its importance.
9:33 – Potential jurors take their first oath. Judge walks them through jury qualifications, to first determine who isn’t qualified. Says May term of court will last four weeks.
After variety of questions about age, health, employment issues – more than 40 excused from the potential jury pool by 10:36 a.m.
Now, the remaining jury pool will be re-arranged into numbered seating for more questions by prosecutors, defense. Sixty people make next phase of selection.
10:50 – Judge warns them about speculating among each other about what case they will hear. He swears them in again and sets 20-minute recess while court handles some “administrative matters” dealing with the jury selection.
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