July, 21 2017
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Jury Selection continues in boot camp Case
Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet said today he will begin the second phase of jury selection in the boot camp case Wednesday, a day sooner than expected, after 151 people were approved to return.
Eight former drill instructors and a nurse at a now-defunct boot camp are on trial in the death of Martin Lee Anderson, who died after collapsing on his first day at the boot camp.
Jury Selection Run Down
On Monday, the lawyers questioned about 150 people as to opinions they might have formed as to guilt or innocence based on pretrial publicity. Eighty-seven people made it through the first round of the selection process and were put into the main pool.
Overstreet told the lawyers in the case this morning that they are “in pretty good shape” to move the process up a day.
Overstreet needs a minimum of 125 people in the final pool to pick 10 jurors for the final panel. Trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 3.
Overstreet said he wants more than the minimum but won’t go through the entire 1,450 people who have been summoned this week. He said once they reach a good, unspecified number, he will release the other prospective jurors.
Two hundred people were summoned for today in morning and afternoon groups. About 69 people made up the morning pool after statutory and other excuses eliminated the others.
By 10 a.m. today, 114 jurors had been accepted including Robert Abernathy, despite a strongly held opinion.
Examining Potential Jurors
“I think they’re being railroaded by the governor and other folks,” he said. Abernathy also said he thought Panama City Medical Examiner Charles Siebert Jr. was being railroaded because of his controversial findings in this case.
“You think they’re being railroaded?” prosecutor Scott Harmon asked him. “That’s a pretty extensive amount of opinion you have about this case. You really think you could back off those opinions and be a fair and impartial juror?”
Abernathy insisted he could.
“I’m man enough to assess the facts and determine if there’s any fact to it,” he said.
Settlements in the Case
Several people questioned Tuesday said they’d heard little about the facts of the case, but nearly all had heard about the $5 million civil settlement the state paid to Anderson’s family. The Bay County Sheriff’s Office also settled with the family for an additional $2.4 million.
“The boy was in the boot camp for a reason,” one prospective juror said. “It might have been a wrongful death but it might have been an accident. I agree (the family) should have been paid something, but not to the tune of that amount.”
He moved on to the second phase because he said the settlement was separate from the criminal case and he wouldn’t let his opinion about the first influence his consideration of the second.
The great majority of prospective jurors in the pool are white, but there have been about a dozen blacks that have been questioned. Today, almost all the black prospective jurors either had no opinion about the eight’s guilt or thought they were innocent. Numerous white prospective jurors have been excused because they said the guards are guilty.
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