From today’s Register-Herald:
Jury selected for accused cop killer
By Matthew Hill
A jury of seven women and five men, along with two male alternates, was impaneled Thursday for the March 10 trial of a Beckley man charged with fatally gunning down a city undercover police officer in August 2006.
The panel was seated Thursday after Raleigh County Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick started Wednesday morning with a pool of 47 potential jurors for the trial of Thomas Leftwich, 25. Leftwich is charged with one count each of first-degree murder, conspiracy and use of a firearm in connection with the Aug. 29, 2006, shooting death of Beckley Police Detective Cpl. Chuck Smith.
Kirkpatrick thanked the jurors for “going above and beyond the call of duty” in braving Thursday’s inclement weather to appear in his courtroom. He cautioned the jurors to refrain from reading, viewing or listening to media coverage of the case. Kirkpatrick added they would be individually questioned March 10 as to any media coverage to which they may have been exposed.
A motions hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 21. Chief deputy prosecutor Kristen Keller is heading up the prosecution, while Leftwich is represented by Logan County attorney Mark Hobbs.
Leftwich’s co-defendant, Michael E. Martin, 42, of Beckley, was convicted last month of first-degree murder and conspiracy in connection with Smith’s death in an alleged undercover drug buy that went sour.
In that case, as in Leftwich’s, a jury was selected several weeks ahead of the trial due to heavy publicity surrounding the case. Attorneys have worried that intense media coverage could make jury selection problematic.
Martin faces life in prison with no chance of parole when he is sentenced today by Kirkpatrick.
Note: This reporter is one of the same reporters that covered the Patricia Brown murder trial that I was involved in. It is always frustrating to read the newspaper every morning during a highly-publicized murder trial in that it is almost always heavily biased against your client. The sad thing is that you know jurors are probably reading the paper every morning too. Even worse than the paper is watching the evening news on TV – they are horribly, horribly biased and inaccurate. However, this particular reporter, Matthew Hill, began his stories about the Patricia Brown trial in a very biased way – see for example this article, titled “Victim named killer as she bled to death, witness says.” It makes you cringe to picture jurors waking up in the morning and taking a glance at the front page of the paper, whether they actually read the article or not. However, I think that after sitting through every witness in the trial, he began to publish articles that were more fair and balanced, see for example this article titled “Defense hints at theory in murder trial,” or this article titled “Experts testify in Brown murder trial.”
Anyways, in the above case, using the label “cop-killer” definitely is not going to help the defense if potential jurors hear that word. In their mind, they are not going to want to even consider the possibility of finding someone not guilty who has been touted in the community as being a “cop killer.” Whether he is or not is irrelevant. The point is that even defendants charged with killing cops are entitled to a fair and impartial jury. This is probably something that you will see at the trial itself. Trial lawyers like to use labels in front of juries. I’m sure the prosecution will repeatedly refer to the defendant as a “cop killer,” probably over the objection of the defense. – John H. Bryan, Attorney at Law.