Saturday, December 20, 2014

Victims Face Lane For First Time at Saturday Hearing
December 13, 2012 by Cassandra Shofar | No Comments

Nick Walczak and Nate Mueller came face-to-face with T.J. Lane this morning for the first time since the Feb. 27 shooting at Chardon High School.

Nick Walczak and Nate Mueller came face-to-face with T.J. Lane this morning for the first time since the Feb. 27 shooting at Chardon High School.

As Lane was brought into the courtroom of Geauga County Common Pleas Court Judge David Fuhry, he came within feet of Walczak — now in a wheelchair after being paralyzed from the chest down from one of Lane’s bullets — and Mueller, whose right ear was grazed by a bullet as well.

Lane never made eye contact with either.

But they both looked at him before he sat down almost directly in front of them to face Fuhry for a hearing on prospective juror requests to be excused from the Jan. 14 murder trial.

The hearing, which lasted a little over an hour, reviewed the requests of more than 200 prospective jurors to be excused from jury duty on a myriad of mandatory or discretionary grounds.

These included having moved or being Amish, a felon, in the military, over the age of 75, a full-time student, out of town, physically unable to serve or dangerously ill or sick, or because of work.

Next to Lane were his defense attorneys Mark DeVan, Ian Friedman and Anne Walton. Across from them were Geauga County Assistant Prose-utor Nick Burling and Prosecutor-elect Jim Flaiz.

Periodically throughout the hearing, Walczak and Mueller could be seen conversing with one another, even smiling at times, as their family members as well as family of deceased victim Russell King Jr. sat quietly in the backdrop.

Notable requests to be excused came from prospective jurors in the educational field as well as accountants.

The defense supported all four requests from teachers or those in “educational-related fields,” believing they’d shown sufficient “hardship.”

However, both the state and Fuhry disagreed on all of them, believing the requests lacked detail or gave “insufficient reason” to be excluded from the jury pool — even regarding one teacher who said his/her district did not provide for substitutes.

“The court wants to hear that in person,” Fuhry said, adding all of them will have to respond to the jury summons and can revisit their request during voir dire — when prospective jurors are asked oral questions to determine their qualifications and suitability to serve.

Given what he currently has to go on, serving in the jury pool is “nominally intrusive without more,” Fuhry added.

Under the work category, the judge noted “a significant number of requests and a significant number of objections” were made.

“Given the size of the company, serving in the jury pool would not be a burden,” Burling said of one person’s request.

The defense did not object; however, DeVan informed the court he knew this perspective juror through a case where this person was an unrelated party.

Flaiz added, the state has “seen this particular excuse for that occupation and does not believe it is sufficient ground to be excused.”

Fuhry agreed.

A total of 600 “short form” questionnaires were sent out to county residents, with 289 returned with no request to be excused, Fuhry said.

Those residents have been sent the next questionnaire — long form, which includes questions about their knowledge of the case.

There were 108 failures to return the form in a timely manner. Fifty of those have since sent their form in and the court is waiting to hear from the rest, the judge added.

Of the mandatory grounds, 12 people were excused because they “moved,” 10 because they were active members of an Amish sect, two people because they were deceased, three due to being on active military duty and three for being convicted of a felony in Ohio or elsewhere.

Fuhry said there was a “long laundry list” — approximating 26 — of forms that came back because the U.S. Post Office did not have a forwarding address for that resident.

Thirty-nine prospective jurors were excused because they no longer reside in the county and 34 people were excused for being over the age of 75 and asked to be excused.

As for discretionary grounds, only a few were challenged, such as one person who was physically disabled, which the state objected to.

“This prospective juror’s physical disability does not appear to interfere with jury duty,” Fuhry surmised, and then denied the request.

However, 24 other people were excused as being physically unable to serve.

Several prospective jurors said they would be out of town, but if their dates didn’t appear to conflict with the trial, Fuhry denied their request and said they would have to provide more information and support at the time of voir dire, or actual jury selection.

“They will have another opportunity to convince the court, but they haven’t done enough yet,” he said.

The second round of requests from prospective jurors will be reviewed Dec. 19.

Lane has been charged with three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of felonious assault — each charge carries a firearms specification.

Victims of the shooting were Daniel Parmertor, 16, King Jr., 17, Demetrius Hewlin, 16. Those injured were Joy Rickers, 18, Walczak, 17, and Mueller, 17.

If convicted, Lane, 18, faces up to life in prison without parole. He does not face the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the shooting.

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