Capital case’s jury selection not over yet

Published 10:41 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Jury selection will continue today in Hernando in the capital murder trial of a Bogue Chitto man accused of shooting to death eight people including a Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputy, an 11-year-old boy and his 18-year-old cousin.

The district attorney is seeking the death penalty for Willie Cory Godbolt, 37.

Jury selection in death penalty cases poses serious problems not found in typical criminal cases. During the voir dire — a French term that means “to speak the truth” — jurors in capital cases are questioned about their views regarding capital punishment in order to discover whether they will be able to follow the law in deciding what sentence to impose.

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Voir dire is how the prosecution and criminal defense attorneys attempt to select the most favorable people to sit on a death penalty jury.

This is the fourth day of jury selection. Jury selection started Monday at the DeSoto County Courthouse in Hernando, which is near Memphis, Tennessee.

If attorneys can choose a group of 12 jurors and three alternates today, it is possible the capital murder trial will begin Friday afternoon with opening statements.

Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, public information officer for the Mississippi court system, said 500 people were summoned for jury selection. Of the 206 who showed up in court, 75 were excused during questioning Monday. More were excused Tuesday and Wednesday although that number was not available.

Jurors and alternates will be taken about 285 miles south to hear the trial at a courthouse in Magnolia, which is near Lincoln County. They will be sequestered through the duration of the trial, Kraft said.

Judge David Strong of the Mississippi 14th Circuit Court District is presiding over the trial.

Godbolt has pleaded not guilty to four counts of capital murder, four counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count of armed robbery. He has remained in custody since his arrest on May 28, 2017, hours after the shootings.