Lard trial begins in Paragould
Jury selections continue in Paragould for the trial of Jerry D. Lard, 37, who is accused of capital murder in the shooting death of Trumann police officer Jonathan Schmidt, on April 12, 2011. Lard is also charged with attempted capital murder for wounding Sgt. Corey Overstreet, and with possession of methamphetamines.
After a request for change of venue, the case was moved from Poinsett County to Greene County Circuit Court seeking a panel of jurors that would be less familiar with the details of the case.
Circuit Court Clerk Jan Griffith read the names of 240 jury candidates during opening session Monday morning, at the Greene County Courthouse, in Paragould. By the end of the day Monday the pool had been reduced to 168.
The courtroom was packed to capacity during the proceedings, with candidates overflowing into the jury gallery. Cramped conditions caused the room to overheat, becoming stuffy as the day wore on. One female candidate passed out and was removed from the courtroom by the bailiffs, where medical assistance was called. Circuit Judge Brent Davis called several recesses during the day allowing people to get a drink and walk around outside.
After the panel was sworn in Judge Davis reviewed details of the circuit court process and the meaning of capital murder.
"This case may go until July 27," Judge Davis said. "We might see some long days, even coming in on Saturday July 21, and July 28 if necessary."
Pencils, pads and a lengthy questionnaire, consisting of 68 questions, were distributed. The completion process took over an hour and allowed the panel to express their personal opinions about the death sentence verses imprisonment for life, how they felt about someone who would kill a police officer in the line of duty, and what they thought the punishment should be. Mental disease and defect as a defense were also questions for consideration.
Griffith called the names of five groups of 18 potential jurors, with each group assigned times to report for questioning and potential jury selection, beginning on Tuesday at 9 a.m.
Attorneys for the prosecution consist of Scott Ellington, Kimberly Dale, Andy Fulkerson, Jimmy Gazaway and David Boling. Defense attorneys include Teri Chambers, Katherine Streett, and Jaqueline Wright.
On Tuesday the first group of 18 candidates reported at 9 a.m. for question and potential selection. Judge Davis called the candidates in groups of three, as the remaining portion of the group remained outside the courtroom.
Judge Davis and prosecution and defense attorneys asked potential jurors questions. They explained that it was the burden of the state to prove the defendant committed capital murder. A decision by the jury must be unanimous, either way, or it would result in a hung jury. The state must prove that the defendant actually killed the officer, that the officer was acting in the line of duty, and that the act was premeditated and deliberate. The defense will seek to prove that Lard had a mental disease or defect.
The prosecution asked questions concerning the potential jurors personal beliefs concerning the death penalty, and would it prevent them from the rendering a fair verdict as defined by law. Some expressed their support for capital punishment where others contended that it was against their religious beliefs.
The defense made inquiries about the addiction, dependence and how it affects a person's judgment. They also reminded the candidates that they were to make their final selection for guilt or innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. They reviewed the definition of mental illness and defect.
"You will not be called upon to decide is Jerry did something wrong, or something bad, as that would be easy," Defense attorney Streett said. "You will be asked to consider the intent and his state of mind at the time."
"Doing something premeditated or deliberate doesn't take a long time," Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington said. "Even when you swat a mosquito that bites you, you have given that act some thought."
"Beyond a reasonable doubt is not merely a possible doubt, an imaginary doubt, nor a shadow of a doubt, and not all doubt," said Prosecutor Jimmy Gazaway. "It is just what it says, it should be reasonable."
"You can't come into this trial with preconceived decisions," said Defense council Teri Chambers. "You have to do so with an open mind, being fair and impartial."
Visual and audio recordings from the crime scene have been entered into evidence for use during the trial.
Should the defendant be found guilty of capital murder the jury will be called upon to vote on sentencing him to death or life in prison without parole. Proving aggravated circumstances is the only reason for considering the death penalty. Should the jury not vote unanimously for the death penalty then the defendant will automatically get life in prison.
At the close of the day on Tuesday only three jurors had been chosen, one male and two female. Jury selection will begin again on Wednesday at 9 a.m., calling the second group of 18 potential jurors.