XENIA — A pool of 348 Greene County residents has been summoned for jury duty next week in the capital murder case for Dustin Merrick.
For many trials in Greene County Common Pleas, a jury is selected within a day. But the nature of high-profile cases like this one seemingly make selection lengthier, and more difficult.
Jury selection begins Tuesday, Sept. 4 in the courthouse. The older Merrick brother is accused in the Jan. 15, 2017 murder of two in Yellow Springs.
“It is a capital murder case so we have to go through the extra process of voir dire for publicity and death penalty,” Dennis McManes, logistics coordinator for Judge Michael Buckwalter’s court, said. “It’s high-profile and the fact that a potential outcome is the death penalty, that makes it very difficult and that’s why we are taking a large pool to begin with. There are additional hurdles to overcome to find impartial jurors that are capable of deliberating and coming to agreement, are able to recommend the death penalty sentence for a human being.”
The court mailed summons and questionnaires to residents six weeks ago.
About 70 people have already been excused, McManes explained, “due to work, travel, child care, or for those over 75 years old.”
The rest of the potential jurors are divided into four large groups, about 70 people in each, taking a morning or afternoon slot for Tuesday or Wednesday.
“Each group will be briefed by the judge on what’s going on, why they’ve been summoned. Then we will tell them what kind of time frame we are talking about, the process we are going to be going through, and ask them to fill out a long form questionnaire,” McManes said.
Eligible jurors will return Thursday and receive times to come back to the courthouse the following week, beginning Monday, Sept. 10, for small group voir dire.
Potential jurors will then be questioned by attorneys in groups of five — six groups per day.
McManes said if there are more than 150 people eligible for the small groups, the process may be extended.
“At some point during that week we may decide we have enough people qualified to move to general voir dire,” he added.
Some jurors will be excused during the anticipated two-week process. The jurors that remain at the end of the small group sessions will be asked to come back for general voir dire.
“In general voir dire, the judge would like to have at least double what would be required,” McManes said, explaining that at least 32 are needed to come up with a panel of 12 jurors.
“The judge wants double that, so 64 to qualify to go to voir dire ensures there’s enough jurors coming out of the pool,” he said.
Attorneys for the prosecution and the defense will then each excuse a certain number of potential jurors, ultimately choosing 12 jurors and four alternates.
“Then we will be ready to proceed for the trial,” McManes said.
The trial itself will consist of two phases: a guilt phase and a penalty phase. One in which the jury reaches a verdict, the other in which the jury recommends sentencing.
McManes said the court anticipates the trial to last a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of four, depending on the number of witnesses called to testify.
Merrick’s brother, Bret, will be tried separately in October.
The brothers are accused of allegedly shooting and killing William “Skip” Brown, 44, inside his home on East Enon Road and Sherri Mendenhall, 63, outside the home in January of 2017.