BENNINGTON — With what’s anticipated to be a three-week trial pending, the Bennington criminal court has sent out a request for around 250 jurors, about twice what they request in a standard trial, in an effort to find a panel that can spend that much time sitting on a jury.
On Tuesday, there will be a final conference in the case of Peter Campbell-Copp, 63, who is facing more than a dozen felony charges, across eight different dockets, of using false pretenses to obtain money. Campbell-Copp is accused of taking money to publish books that were never printed.
If the case doesn’t resolve on Tuesday, a jury is expected to be drawn one week later for a trial set to start April 10.
Mary Frost, court manager for Bennington County, said that when searching for the right jury candidates for a case like this, she has to be mindful the trial could be canceled if the prosecution and defense reach an agreement. Jury members might also be needed for another case, if one trial is canceled.
“Managing the jury with such a large prospect, that can actually go away and become a smaller prospect, can be difficult,” she said.
For the Campbell-Copp case, Frost said she did something she doesn’t ordinarily do and included a letter that said the trial was expected to last three weeks.
Starting with a large pool doesn’t guarantee that an adequate number of jurors will be available. In this case, about 75 people were eliminated right away for various reasons like they had moved or had medical issues. The trial also falls during school vacation so a number of people already had travel plans. While it’s unusual, there are real consequences to not having enough jurors. This week, there was a trial scheduled for Jay C. Allard, 55, of Bennington, on nine felonies, all but one involving sexual crimes with child victims.
However, after two jurors got sick and another had to withdraw for a conflict of interest, the trial had to be postponed.
Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage said while she appreciated jurors and the service they provide, delaying a trial could be painful for many involved.
“It creates a difficulty for everybody. Not only the witnesses that have been subpoenaed but it creates a difficulty for the defendant, who was expecting this to be done this week, and the victim, who was also expecting this to be done,” she said.
Marthage said it could be especially concerning in a sex crime case when the victims were already in a fragile state over reliving the alleged incidents and discussing difficult memories in court.
Frost and other court managers are no longer responsible for sending out their own jury summonses as they are handled from a central location in Burlington.
“That’s really helped a lot. That’s really streamlined the process, but once you get to the local level, then you’re dealing with excusals and making sure you have enough jurors,” she said.
Creating such a large jury pool is not unusual, but Frost said it’s only happened a few times during her tenure, mostly for high-profile murder cases.
According to a story in The Associated Press, U.S. Court Judge William Sessions said in February that the jury pool in the case of Brooke Bennett’s 2008 death might need as many as 5,000 members to find an unbiased jury. Brooke’s uncle, Michael Jacques, is facing charges that he abducted, sexually assaulted and killed his 12-year-old niece.
At the Bennington courthouse, there is also the problem of finding the space for people both outside for parking and inside for jury drawing. Frost said she thinks there will be enough parking although some might need to park at the adjacent deer park. She said the attorneys might be able to come up with some broad questions that can quickly get the jury pool to a reasonable size.
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