Jury selection continues in prison murder trial

By on October 8, 2019

Potential jurors quizzed about death penalty

Mikel Brady (NC Dept. of Public Safety)

Jury selection continued on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at the Dare County Courthouse in Manteo in the trial of one of four Pasquotank Correctional Institute inmates charged in the death of four prison guards following a failed escape attempt in October 2017.

Mikel Brady faces four counts of murder in the first degree and other related charges in the deadliest prison escape attempt in North Carolina history. The other men charged are Wisezah Buckman, Seth Frazier and Jonathan Monk. Each defendant will be tried separately, with Buckman’s trial slated for March; Frazier’s and Monk’s trial dates have not yet been set.

Prosecutors in the case are seeking the death penalty for the murders of Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden, 50, Corrections Officer Justin Smith, 35, Corrections Officer Wendy Shannon, 49, and Maintenance Mechanic Geoffrey Howe, 31.

Brady has been in court during jury selection, sitting quietly next to his attorneys, his hair close-cropped and wearing a dress shirt. He was surrounded by half a dozen armed officers, who sat close behind him during the entire proceedings.

Some 600 potential jurors have been summoned to the courthouse, according to the Island Free Press. On Tuesday afternoon, an estimated 200 jurors split into two panels were waiting in the jury room to be called into the courtroom.

A change of venue moved the trial to Dare County. (CriShaun Eugene Hardy)

The parking lot of the courthouse was completely full, and potential jurors were directed to a satellite parking area some 1.5 miles away at the College of the Albemarle Roanoke Island Campus. The courthouse has organized a shuttle service to transport the potential jurors to the courthouse.

Superior Court Judge Jerry R. Tillett is presiding over Brady’s trial, which has attracted considerable interest far beyond the area. Given the high-profile nature of the case, nearly all the potential jurors in Tuesday’s afternoon session reported that they heard about the murders back in 2017, and many continued to follow the case in the news media.

One potential juror said he heard about the case through “grapevine gossip” at his workplace, and that it “didn’t take long to come to conclusions about what I thought.”

In Tuesday’s proceedings, both Brady’s lawyers and District Attorney Andrew Womble interviewed dozens of potential jurors, in particular focusing on the individual’s stance on the death penalty. In capital murder cases in North Carolina, it is up to the jury to mete out the punishment to a convicted defendant: either life without parole, or the death penalty.

The jurors expressed strong convictions on the death penalty issue. Thomas Manning, a member of Brady’s defense team from a Raleigh-based firm, asked jurors if, having found Brady guilty, they would be able to consider the punishment of life without parole. Of the seven jurors interviewed in the early afternoon session, only one juror said she would waver on handing out the death penalty.

The other six jurors were firm in their belief that the death penalty was the only sufficient punishment were Brady found guilty. One male juror said he based his views on an understanding of “the difference between right and wrong,” and that “capital murder is wrong.” Another male juror said, “I respect the law, but on this matter, I have one answer: death penalty.” Yet another said he could not “put a man in prison for life and pay for his rehabilitation with my tax money.”

Judge Tillett struck one female juror after she admitted that she didn’t know if she could return a verdict of not guilty at all, saying that “it’s difficult to believe there’s going to be some evidence that will change my mind.”

Ultimately, those six jurors were struck, two women and four men. And at the conclusion of Tuesday’s proceedings, about 20 potential jurors were either dismissed or asked to leave.

Jury selection is expected to continue on Weds. Oct. 9 as the court struggles to select its 12-person jury with alternates. The trial itself may last for weeks.

North Carolina has executed 43 individuals since its current statute was adopted in 1977. The last execution was in 2006. There are currently 142 individuals on death row in the state.

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  • Kody

    It’s almost 2020. That dood should have been executed a long time ago.

    Wednesday, Oct 9 @ 1:30 am
  • Alan L.

    The jurors should all be ashamed of themselves the way they are acting. Children lost a mother, wives lost a husband, brothers lost a sister. The jurors concocting ever story to get dismissed or do something stupid to be arrested. They are acting like 5 year olds.

    Wednesday, Oct 9 @ 8:32 pm
  • Obxer

    There isn’t a need for a trial let alone a jury everybody know what happened. It’s that freaking simple people

    Sunday, Oct 13 @ 9:46 am