PRINCETON — Defense attorneys asked Gibson Circuit Judge Jeffrey Meade to authorize calling a "test jury" for questioning to determine whether Jacob L. Wilson can get a fair trial here for the murder charge he faces in connection with last spring's shooting death of Samuel Bethe of Buckskin.
Judge Meade denied the motion Monday, but did agree to share jury pool questionnaires with the defense and prosecution closer to the June trial, and confirmed he expects to call a pool of at least 100 people.
Defense attorney Kurt Schnepper withdrew a request for a change of venue last week, but told the judge at Monday morning's hearing that calling a test pool of potential jurors is necessary and would be less costly than the time and cost associated with protecting his client's right to a fair trial.
Co-counsel Shaunda Lynch said a small random sample of the jury pool would be helpful to establish whether it's possible for Wilson to have a fair trial in a very close-knit community.
Gibson County Prosecutor Michael Cochren argued that a test pool of 12 potential jurors wouldn't give a definitive answer to that question because the jury pool is fluid, changing as other trials take place. "The only true way to know is at voir dire of the jury pool that is called for the trial," he argued.
The judge took a motion requesting the court permission to have hearings with the judge but not the prosecution under advisement. Schnepper and Lynch are court-appointed defense counsel, and he argued that Wilson should have the benefit of expert witnesses if needed without argument in open court. He said some of the information that might be shared with the judge "should be strictly confidential," noting that if Wilson could afford his own attorney, those expert witnesses could be hired privately.
Cochren said he doesn't want to invade any privacy issues but argued that it would set a precedent and he does not believe the court is obligated to have private hearings with the defense regarding appointment of experts.
Schnepper and Lynch, who were appointed to the case after a prior defense attorney withdrew, also got permission to allow Wilson to meet with them privately at the Gibson County Jail to hear statements made during the investigation of the case, and got assurances that all the prosecution's discovery evidence is or will be turned over to the defense.
There are about 23 different compact discs and DVDs of statements and other evidence. Lynch said some of the recordings are inaudible and she needs law enforcement notes of those interviews to ascertain what's said in them.
"I'm giving you everything I've got," Cochren told the defense.
The judge set a 10 a.m. April 12 hearing on any pending motions in the case.
Wilson is scheduled to stand trial beginning June 10. Cochren is seeking life without parole as an additional habitual criminal enhancement if Wilson is convicted of the murder charge. He also faces an unrelated Level 6 felony count of strangulation filed after his arrest.
Co-defendant Ashley Robling, Petersburg, is scheduled to stand trial July 22 in Gibson Superior Court.
The couple is accused of killing Bethe, setting his trailer on fire, then stealing his truck and driving to Paducah, Kentucky, and stealing another vehicle. They were arrested in Union County Illinois, after authorities recovered a wrecked stolen car and found them hiding near the vehicle.