A jury of 10 women and two men was seated Monday in the trial of Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, with two alternates, both women, also selected.
Jury selection dominated the opening day of the trial, and special Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove adjourned for the day after giving instructions to the newly-minted jurors about avoiding media accounts of the proceedings and not discussing the case with anyone.
More jury instructions, opening arguments and testimony will get underway around 8:30 Tuesday morning.
The day began with more than 40 potential jurors gathered at the Highland County Courthouse, with an additional 40-plus waiting in the basement meeting room of the county annex building across the street. The jury pool for the case was about twice as large as for a typical jury trial in Highland County.
Eventually, the second pool of jurors was called to the courthouse before the pool was whittled to about half its original size. Then, special prosecutor Robert F. Smith and defense attorney James Boulger questioned potential jurors before the judge and the attorneys further reduced the pool, until 12 jurors and two alternates were seated.
Hastings sat at the defense table with Boulger throughout the proceedings. His wife, Taryn, was on hand throughout the day in the gallery. Several state witnesses were on hand in the afternoon before being told they would not be needed until Tuesday.
Smith quizzed potential jurors and read a witness list, asking jury pool members whether they were familiar with any witnesses. He asked whether any jurors had any “religious, moral or philosophical” objections to “sitting in judgment of another person.” One woman said she did, and she was eventually excused.
Smith focused on whether those in the jury pool would follow the law, and base their deliberation and vote on the evidence in accordance with the law.
Boulger asked the pool whether they understood why verdicts in a criminal trial must be unanimous, and told them their vote as a juror would be a “special vote” that did not need to conform to the votes of others on the jury.
After the judge dismissed two from the jury pool, Smith and Boulger exercised their peremptory challenges to excuse four more from the pool.
Finally, around 3:15 p.m., the judge announced that the “jury is constituted.” She told the alternate jurors that their role was similar to that of a “runner up in the Miss America contest.” Many of the 30 or so people who still remained in the jury pool but were not chosen let out an audible sigh of relief as they filed from the courtroom.
Jury selection began around 9 a.m. Monday, with the first group of 40-plus potential jurors answering a number of questions posed by the judge.
Five jurors said they knew Hastings personally, and the majority of jurors said they had heard about the case or read about it in the media. In both cases, Cosgrove said that knowing Hastings or being aware of the case through the media did not necessarily disqualify them from serving on the jury.
Cosgrove said the main issue was whether they could render a verdict based solely on the evidence in the case. “Don’t get your hopes up” about being excused from serving on the jury, said the judge.
Cosgrove brought a sometimes humorous touch to the proceedings. After she administered the oath to the jury pool and all potential jurors responded with, “I do,” she said, “That’s the right answer, sit down.”
Cosgrove asked jurors how many of them woke up Monday morning excited to have jury duty. Three people raised their hands.
Cosgrove told potential jurors that the United States is one of the “few nations” where a defendant still has a right to have a trial by “a jury of your peers.” She told the jury pool that the charges against Hastings are “only allegations,” and said he is presumed innocent. Later, when she read the indictment against Hastings, she said the indictment is not evidence.
After the majority of people in the jury pool raised their hands in answer to the judge’s question about whether they had heard or read about the case in the media, the judge said they would be questioned individually by the attorneys in the case. That questioning, held in the judge’s chambers, took several hours, stretching into mid-afternoon.
Hastings is charged with four felonies in connection with questions about his residency, his alleged use of a city dumpster for personal debris, and a $500 rebate he received from a vacant property fee.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.
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