Lack of jurors delays start of trial

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 11, 2001

The trial of a Bogue Chitto man accused of sexual battery andchild fondling got off to a “false start” Monday as not enoughpotential jurors showed up for court.

At 9 a.m., only 38 potential jurors were in the courtroom forthe trial of Timothy Dupuis, 49. Circuit Clerk Terry Case Watkinssaid 150 summonses had been sent out.

“That’s the same number we usually send out,” Watkins said.

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After three members of the jury pool were excused for variousreasons, that left only 35 from which to pick 12 jurors andalternates.

Since the case involves the possibility of a life sentence,Judge Mike Smith explained that the prosecution and the defenseeach get to challenge and strike 12 jurors instead of the usualsix. Also, jurors could be excused “for cause” such as arelationship with an attorney or a witness.

“Right from the start, we knew we weren’t going to have enough,”Watkins said.

Then, 48 more summonses were sent out. By noon, sheriff’sdepartment officials had located seven more potential jurors, butthree of those were excused for reasons such as prior jury dutywithin the last year.

Shortly after noon, Smith dismissed the jury pool and orderedthem to return Tuesday morning. Circuit clerk officials were tosend out more summonses Monday afternoon.

In dismissing the jury, Smith said Monday was an “unusualsituation” that has happened twice in the last seven years. Othercourt officials recalled a third incident within the last fiveyears.

“It’s something you really never know about,” Smith said aboutpotential juror attendance.

In this case, Smith said there an unusual number of people whohad made vacation plans and were earlier excused. Also, he saidthere was a high number of people over age 65, who can be excusedbecause of their age.

After the jury was dismissed, defense attorney Joe Fernaldspeculated that some people just didn’t bother to show up. Peoplewho fail to show up for a jury summons can be fined up to $100 forcontempt of court.

“People need to pay attention to jury summonses,” Fernald said.”At one time, people saw it as a privilege. Now they don’t, it’s aninconvenience to people.”

During court, Fernald requested Smith admonish attorneys,potential jurors and witnesses to not discuss the case. With theuncertainty, he expressed concerns that testimony could beaffected.

“I think it could present a problem in that people have atendency to talk,” Fernald said.

However, given only a one-day delay, he did not think Monday’sfalse start would be a problem. He supported Smith’s decision todelay the trial.

“I think he did the right thing,” Fernald said.

Dupuis is accused of sexual battery and touching, handling orfeeling a child for lustful purposes.

According to the indictment, the alleged incident happened onApril 16 and involved a girl under age 14. The girl’s exact age andother details were unavailable and court officials could notdiscuss the case.