YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Early next week, Judge Maureen Sweeney should decide whether Robert Seman will be tried in Mahoning County or somewhere else in Ohio.
Seman is charged with setting the fire that killed 10-year-old Corinne Gump and her grandparents in March of 2015. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.
The lawyers for both sides will argue Monday morning over whether or not the case needs to be moved to another county. If the judge rules that the case be tried here, jury selection could begin Tuesday.
About 160 prospective jurors received questionnaires Friday morning to provide information on their prior knowledge of the case, along with background information about themselves.
Having tried two capital cases himself, former Lawrence County District Attorney Matt Mangino says that deciding where the murder trial will be held will come down to being able to seat a jury.
“The fundamental right is to have a fair trial, and a fair trial means that you have a panel of fair and impartial jurors.”
The questioning of those perspective jurors, known as “voir dire,” could begin next week. Mangino says Judge Sweeney and lawyers for both sides will not only be asking about the attitudes of the panelists, but also their backgrounds and relationships.
“Do they have a police officer in their background, in their family? Have they had a family member who’s a victim? Do they have a family member who’s in prison or has served time in prison?”
Lawyers are also going to be interested in what they do for a living.
“There are certain individuals, certain types of employment, that make it more difficult to convince jurors one way or another,” Mangino said.
He admits that seating jurors can also come down to a number of intangibles.
“How do they make eye contact? How do they answer my questions? Were they listening when the judge was instructing them about this whole process?”
Mangino says cases like this can be both time-consuming and emotionally taxing for everyone involved, especially the jurors. He says they will often be consumed by the weight of their responsibilities, even a year or more after the case is over.
“They’re still mulling this case around, thinking about ‘Did I make the right decision? What happened to this defendant? What happened to these victims?'”
Although the Seman case has seen a lot of publicity in the last year and a half, Mangino says that just because potential jurors know about it may not necessarily keep them from being selected. It’s about whether they can remain fair and impartial until the end.