Summonses to be issued for Osage County jurors for murder trial

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James Harris, left, is escorted to the Osage County Jail by jail sergeant Jerry Nitcher after a Dec. 1 court conference.

A jury trial in an Osage County murder case is scheduled to begin Jan. 5, 2015, but the jury selection process has already begun, and 250 potential Osage County jurors will be summonsed within the next week.

James P. Harris, 30, is charged with first degree murder in the death of 49-year-old James E. Gerety. Prosecutors allege Harris killed Gerety sometime between March 3, 2011, and April 20, 2011. Gerety’s death was discovered after part of his skull was found in March 2012 by a woman hunting mushrooms near her residence in rural Carbondale. Prosecutors revealed during Harris’ preliminary hearing in March that the skull was the only part of Gerety’s body that had been recovered.

Harris appeared in Osage County District Court on Monday for a pretrial conference, during which his attorney, James Campbell, and Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones indicated they were prepared to proceed with the jury trial. Neither introduced new motions.

During a motions hearing in October, Osage County Chief Judge Phillip Fromme had granted a defense motion to exclude evidence about the defendant’s religious practices unless it had a relationship to the alleged crime or commission of a crime. One witness at the preliminary hearing testified that Harris was involved in voodoo, kept a voodoo doll effigy of the victim, and kept the victim’s head in a bag at a residence in Topeka. Also at the October hearing, Fromme denied a defense motion for a change of venue for the trial.

Monday, Fromme and attorneys discussed the jury selection process, indicating that 60 to 70 potential jurors would be needed in the courtroom on Jan. 5 to provide a pool from which to select 12 jurors and two or three alternates for the trial.

Tuesday, Osage County District Court Clerk Charna Williams said the court office had already begun the jury selection process and 250 summonses were expected to be mailed by the end of this week.

Williams said the 250 potential jurors would be summonsed to ensure that at least 60 or 70 “have the ability to come in.” Williams noted specific conditions and circumstances can excuse some citizens from serving on a jury, but anyone receiving a summons is required to respond by filling out the questionnaire included and mailing it back in a court-provided postage-paid envelope. At the beginning of the trial, attorneys will question those in the juror pool to determine who will be the jurors in the case.

Any licensed driver in Osage County is eligible to be summoned for jury duty. Williams said the selection process uses a list of licensed drivers provided by the Kansas Division of Vehicles, from which potential jurors are randomly selected by computer.

See related story here.


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