ITHACA, N.Y. — Jury selection has nearly concluded for the retrial of Jeffrey Horton, whose previous conviction was overturned. Opening statements are expected Thursday afternoon.
After a trial that spanned about a week in June 2016, a jury found Horton guilty of 11 of 14 charges, including first-degree rape, first-degree burglary and several other felonies and misdemeanors. He is on trial again in Tompkins County Court for the charges he was previously found guilty of.
In the previous case, the jury found Horton guilty of stalking a woman he knew, illegally entering her house, and raping and beating her. However, the verdict was overturned on an appeal on the basis that a juror was improperly vetted.
Jury selection took place throughout the day Tuesday and Wednesday. Potential jurors were questioned by Judge Joseph Cassidy and attorneys for the prosecution and defense about possible conflicts of interest and whether they could be fair and impartial, and other questions, such as how they felt about the necessity of DNA in a case, or if they thought Horton must be guilty of something if he is on trial.
The jury selection is long and detailed, Assistant District Attorney Diane Lama said Tuesday, “because it’s important to make sure this is a fair trial.”
Horton’s previous conviction was overturned because of the previous jury selection process.
During the jury selection process, the judge and attorneys ask potential jurors questions to determine if they have any experiences that may make them biased or unfair in the case. If either lawyer believes a juror may be prejudiced, they can ask the judge to dismiss that juror “for cause.” In addition to asking the judge to dismiss for cause, each attorney has a number of peremptory challenges to excuse jurors.
In the last case, a potential juror said she knew one of the witnesses, who was her primary care physician for the past 15 years. Though it was not really considered an issue that the witness was the juror’s doctor, her general equivocal, uncertain responses that she would “try” to be impartial was “problematic,” the appellate division decision states.
“Although the juror stated that she had a preconceived notion that (the physician) would be truthful, she indicated that she could be impartial and fair at trial in that regard,” the decision states. “This juror also stated that her husband was the victim of a robbery and, because the person ‘got off,’ she was ‘a little cynical’ about the criminal justice system, but ‘would try’ to be impartial and thought ‘that could be.’ When asked if she could find defendant guilty, this juror stated ‘yes, you bet.’”
During jury selection, the prosecution and defense both had 15 “peremptory challenges” to dismiss a juror without a reason. Other jurors can be “challenged for cause,” if there is a good reason they may not be able to reach a fair verdict, which the judge decides. The appellate decision said it was an error to deny the defendant’s challenge for cause regarding the juror in question.
In the case of the juror in question in the previous trial, prosecutors did not object to having her on the jury, but the defense did object and used a challenge to keep her off the jury. The defense later ran out of peremptory challenges before the entire jury was selected.
“Because the defense exhausted its allotment of peremptory challenges prior to the completion of jury selection, the judgment of conviction must be reversed,” the decision states.
The case is set to resume at 1 p.m. Thursday. One alternate juror needs to be selected, Cassidy said, but opening statements will begin after that. Check back to The Ithaca Voice for updates throughout the trial.