DALE COUNTY, Ala (WDHN) — After many hours in a Dale County Courtroom, the first day of the murder trial of Coley McCraney is over, but a jury still awaits to be seated.
McCraney is on trial for the 1999 summer murders of JB Beasley and Tracie Hawlett.
On the first day, the court started the process of choosing the most vital part of any trial, the jury.
Nealy 50 of the 153 potential jury members did not show. Originally, 300 Dale County citizens were summoned to possibly serve on the jury but on Thursday, the defense was informed that 147 potential jurors had been dismissed.
Once all potential jury members, some of whom have previous trial experience, were seated in the courtroom, Dale County Judge William Filmore questioned them on basic matters such as where they lived, what is their occupation, are they U.S. citizens, do any physical or mental ailments prevent them from serving on the jury, do they even want to serve, and more. This cut 27 potential jurors from the already short list.
After this, it was the prosecution’s and the defense’s turn to interview the jury pool as a whole.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who is leading the prosecution on behalf of the state, took the floor first. Marshall addressed the jury pool as if they were old friends and asked a line of questions; touching on any past experiences the potential jurors may have had with McCraney or anyone in his inner circle, or any bad experiences with law enforcement that may sway their decision. He listed off a small queue of names from the witness list, seeing if anyone in the pool knew or had heard of those on the list.
Marshall put himself in the questions, asking the potential jurors if they were swayed to a decision just because his office had taken over prosecution, and Kirke Adams, the Dale County District Attorney, was not there in person to try the case himself. Marshall is prosecuting the case in conjunction with the Dale County District Attorney’s Office.
Marshall also brought up the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, a South Carolina attorney who was recently found guilty of killing his wife and son. Marshall asked the jury if they kept up with the case and, if so, did they agree with the verdict that was reached. Several potential members raised their hands and said they followed the story.
David Harrison, McCraney’s lead attorney, then took over the questioning. Harrison attempted to connect with the potential jury members, saying he “was just a small country lawyer.” He played on many of Marshall’s questions, attempting to learn more about the potential jurors and reaffirm information.
On several occasions, Harrison reminded the potential jurors that by constitutional right, McCraney is innocent until proven guilty.
“This case is about if the government has enough evidence to convict Coley McCraney of the murder of these two girls. Nothing else,” Harrison said.
During the questioning, two potential jurors openly admitted to the court that they wanted to serve on the jury.
After lunch, members of the prosecution and defense began pulling potential jurors back individually, asking them about their knowledge of the McCraney case and determining their stance on the death penalty.
During individual interviews, Judge Filmore dismissed the court and potential jury members early due to the air-conditioning being out in parts of the courthouse.
Potential jurors were ordered to be back at the courthouse at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday to finish interviews. It is expected a jury will be seated Tuesday afternoon.
This is not the first time the state has tried to put McCraney on trial. He was set to go to trial in August 2022, when only 75 of the potential 250 jurors showed up, and a full jury could not be seated, Judge Filmore declared a mistrial.
Stay with WDHN for updates.