YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – With a stack of jury questionnaire forms sitting on the defense table, Robert Seman’s lawyers argued the time has come to move this case out of Mahoning County.
“It does not appear that we can get a fair and impartial trial,” Attorney Lynn Maro said.
Seman is accused of setting fire to a Youngstown home almost two years ago, killing 10-year-old Corinne Gump and her grandparents, Bill and Judy Schmidt. Prosecutors said Seman set fire to the house where they lived because Gump was set to testify against him in a rape case.
Seman’s lawyers asked to disqualify the juror pool, declare a mistrial, discharge the jury, and change the venue.
Maro went through the questionnaires, filled out by prospective jurors to indicate how much they know about a particular case in advance.
“This is the stack of people who have heard nothing about the case. Eight jurors out of 95,” she said.
The defense argued that some of the jury pool believes Seman is guilty based on their responses to the questionnaire.
While lawyers claim a small number of jurors wrote they would be impartial, the majority did not.
Judge Maureen Sweeney said she will again question jurors before moving the Youngstown triple-murder case out of the county.
This is the second attempt at picking a jury for this case. Last September, Judge Sweeney declared a mistrial in the case after it was determined that a few of the jurors made inappropriate comments about their opinions of Seman.
Judge Sweeney ruled the dismissal of the jurors was appropriate, and jurors who may have overheard the conversation will be questioned.
Seman’s lawyers said his constitutional rights are being violated because “he is being denied due process due to pretrial publicity and juror misconduct.” They cited two potential jurors who were dismissed prior to jury orientation due to their discussions about the case.
In court Tuesday morning, Seman’s lawyers claimed history was repeating itself.
“I witnessed another juror trying to conceal herself, hiding down, after you walked out of the courtroom and putting paper up over her face,” Maro said. “The juror in front of her was shaking her head in disbelief, with her mouth open.”
She said jurors are willing to disregard the court’s order because of their feelings about the case.
“This is a case, and everyone in this courtroom knows it, where the media coverage has been so pervasive and has elicited such strong emotions for people.”
Prosecutors argued there is no way to know how jury members will react without starting the process of questioning them individually, telling the judge the defense was essentially creating even more pretrial publicity by making their arguments in front of the media today.
Judge Sweeney agreed, at least for now.
“This Court recognizes that there is a potential for juror misconduct, however, will not presume that the misconduct of two former potential jurors has tainted the entire jury pool,” read a judgment entry from Sweeney, filed Tuesday.
The potential jurors will be questioned individually, beginning on Wednesday. The jurors’ responses will then be examined to determine if a change of venue is warranted.