YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Mahoning County Court Judge Maureen Sweeney has declared a mistrial in the case against accused killer Robert Seman.
Lawyers for Seman asked Judge Sweeney to declare a mistrial last week, as well as dismiss the pool of jurors and move the trial to another county. According to the judge’s journal entry, the decision was made due to comments made from a few prospective jury members that were deemed inappropriate about their opinions on the case.
Sweeney told Seman’s attorneys that she didn’t want to waste time rehashing arguments during the new pretrial, scheduled for October 5.
“If you have anything to supplement, that’s what I want to hear. Anything else, I don’t want to hear,” she said.
For weeks, the defense has pressed to move Seman’s trial out of Mahoning County, arguing that the media’s coverage of the case over the last year-and-a-half would make it nearly impossible to find a jury that’s fair and impartial.
Seman is charged with setting the house fire that killed 10-year-old Corinne Gump and her grandparents in March of last year.
Monday, defense attorneys said members of the prospective pool of jurors had been telling others about the case.
“We can only assume that they’re revealing opinions about guilt and innocence and about facts of the case, because of pretrial publicity,” said Attorney Lynn Maro.
Although the judge took the unusual step of requiring members of the jury pool to sign an oath to keep an open mind and not do anything to poison the selection process, the defense argued that had already been violated.
“Here the jury’s conduct has been consistent with a presumption of prejudice. After signing a pledge, within the first few hours, jurors were vocalizing opinions about the defendant’s guilt,” Maro said.
Prosecutors argued that while a few of the jurors may have spoke out of turn, others told them to stop and then reported the conversations, as instructed by the judge.
“I think that it shows the exact opposite conclusion of what the defense has arrived at,” said Mahoning County Assistant Prosecutor Jenn McLaughlin.
The judge determined that enough had happened to toss out the entire jury pool and start over again. The trial will likely be delayed until after the holidays in January, when Sweeney said she will hold jury orientation in smaller groups, so that individual comments don’t impact the entire pool.
Seman will remain in the Mahoning County Jail until his case gets underway.