Jury seated, arguments begin today

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Opening statements in the state’s murder and robbery charges against Eugene Black are expected to begin at 9 this morning in Covington County Circuit Court.

Attorneys in the case spent all day Monday on jury selection before seating eight white females, five white males, and one black male shortly after 5 p.m.

Black was among the four people charged in December of 2013 with robbery and murder in the cold case murder of James “Nibby” Barton. Sheila Walker Williams was scheduled to be tried with him, but entered a plea agreement over the weekend. Sandra Ellison Lynn, who also was charged with robbery and murder, entered a plea deal in May and was sentenced to two years in prison. She is expected to testify against Black. A fourth suspect indicted in the case, Shelia Ellison Brooks, died of natural causes within months of her arrest.

Attorneys associated with the case – District Attorney Walt Merrell, Chief Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter, and defense attorney Peter Bush – spent time questioning jurors outside of the courtroom about their knowledge of the case, as Bush previously asked for a change of venue. McKathan previously said until attorneys questioned potential jurors, it would be impossible to know if pretrial publicity would prevent Black from getting a fair trial.

Inside the courtroom, attorneys asked members of the jury pool typical questions including their own experience with the judicial system; with people lying; what magazines they subscribe; and what kinds of bumper stickers they have on their automobiles.

Jeter also asked the potential jurors if they knew any of the defendants, or if they knew Walter Eugene Dean, who died in 1997, but whose body was exhumed in 2013 after he was identified as a suspect in the case; Andy Bagda; Dean Brooks; Robert Canant; Jimmy Payne; or Patricia Vines.

The trial is expected to last all week.