ST. ALBANS: There have been almost two hundred prospective jurors mulling around the courthouse in St. Albans this week as they are filtered down to a group of fourteen that will hear the evidence against Franklin County’s former Senator, Norm McAllister.
McAllister is facing two misdemeanor charges relating to prostitution and one felony count of sexual assault.
The first two days have been long and arduous for the jurors as the lawyers for both the State of Vermont and McAllister have been asking them prying questions.
The inquiries have been everything from personal information to general questions like work and social history to determine biases.
Perhaps the most difficult part of finding qualified jurors is filtering out the ones that have extensive knowledge of the case through media coverage. This caused the court to take each juror behind closed doors to ask them about their knowledge of the case without the rest of the jurors hearing their responses.
Their questions and answers were recorded for the record and available to the media in real time.
The public view seems to largely side against McAllister, but some prospective jurors have said they have biases that could favor McAllister.
One juror told the court that they only knew of McAllister through dealings with relatives renting from him. That juror also told the court that she believed McAllister was innocent because he had always treated her family with respect.
Several jurors told the court that they could not move beyond their biases in the case and thought that McAllister was guilty.
On Monday, one juror was found listening to the closed doors questioning through a hearing device that was mistakenly given to her earlier in the day to help hear the proceedings within the courtroom.
The court staff realized the juror had the audio device and could hear what was being said behind the closed doors, but when she was confronted about it, she denied being able to hear what was going on. Through an abundance of caution to not taint a jury pool, she was excused from the prospective juror pools.
The main focus of the questioning was to determine if there were jurors that knew about details in the case, most notably if the jurors knew that there were multiple women that accused McAllister of sex crimes.
Most jurors told the court they had seen some media coverage of the case, but they didn’t remember details. Often those jurors would end up recalling damning details that caused them to be dismissed.
One man told the court he had listened to at least some of the audio recording that police produced between McAllister and one of his accusers while reading coverage of the case on the County Courier’s website.
A significant number of the second batch of jurors, brought in on Tuesday, had seen coverage the night before on WCAX-TV news, including a timeline and details about the previous cases. All of those prospective jurors were dismissed from jury duty.
One juror late, in the afternoon on Tuesday, sent a note to the judge saying that he had work obligations and needed to leave. He added to his note that he had worked with McAllister through the farming community and didn’t feel that he could convict McAllister, regardless of the testimony.
That juror and a juror earlier in the day that echoed those sentiments were both dismissed.
One juror recalled reading graphically detailed reporting after McAllister’s arrest, “I can’t believe that the St. Albans Messenger would print this type of trash,” the juror recalled to the court, “I remember thinking that it was going to bias a jury.”
At least two jurors told the court that after getting the summons in the mail from the court, they proceeded to Google the case to learn more about it. Those jurors were immediately dismissed.
The judge in the case has ruled the lawyers can not introduce any evidence or talk to the jury that related to the other two alleged victims in the cases.
That is because one of the accusers has died and the first trial ended with the state dismissing it with prejudice, leaving the Prosecution without a conviction in either case.
Given the line questioning that the defense is using during the jury selection process, it is likely that they will attack the alleged victim’s credibility.
In a case about five years ago, this woman was a key witness in a domestic assault case. She later recanted her sworn statements and said she had a mental condition that caused her to hear voices in her head and that she didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t.
The prosecution told the jury they would likely hear the audio recording of McAllister and the mother-in-law of the accused in this case.
McAllister has maintained his innocence throughout the two year ordeal except for a short time after he accepted a plea deal from the state, which he later backed out of.
Jury selection is expected to resume Wednesday morning with opening arguments later in the morning.
The trial is scheduled through Friday, but given the pace that the case is proceeding, it is likely that the trial, if not deliberations, will continue far beyond that.
FOLLOW THE COUNTY COURIER ONLINE AND ON FACEBOOK FOR CONTINUING COVERAGE OF THE McALLISTER CASE THROUGHOUT THE WEEK.