By Peter H. Milliken
A capacity crowd of 140 potential jurors assembled in the largest courtroom in the Mahoning County Courthouse for orientation in a capital-murder case.
The 30-minute mass orientation occurred Friday before Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of common pleas court, who is presiding over the murder trial of Aubrey F. Toney, 33, of West Judson Avenue.
Toney is charged in the Sept. 25, 2010, shooting death of Thomas Repchic and the wounding of his wife, Jacqueline, on the city’s South Side.
The potential jurors filled the jury box and all the courtroom’s spectator benches, with many having to be seated in chairs in front of the bar, which lawyers and court personnel hastily obtained from the jury deliberating room and other sources.
During the jury selection, which continues next week, prospective jurors will return to the courthouse, a few at a time, to be interviewed by prosecuting and defense lawyers.
They’ll be interviewed individually and out of earshot of other potential jurors concerning their views toward the death penalty and their exposure to, and reaction to, pretrial publicity concerning the case.
When jury selection is complete, there will be 12 jurors and four alternates who will hear witness testimony.
“You will be the sole judges of the facts,” Judge Sweeney told the potential jurors, adding that she would instruct them concerning the law and its application to the case and that they must keep an open mind until they reach a verdict.
Toney’s trial was to have started in January, but it was postponed because of the high-risk pregnancy of a key prosecution witness who lives in Georgia.
Rebecca L. Doherty and Dawn Cantalamessa, assistant county prosecutors, are handling the state’s case. Defense lawyers are John B. Juhasz and Paul Conn.
In a motion to postpone another case because of his role in the Toney trial, Conn estimated Toney’s trial would take four to eight weeks to complete.
Judge Sweeney has overruled a defense motion to move the trial to another Ohio county due to extensive pretrial publicity.
She wrote, however, that she would allow the defense to renew that motion if the attempt to seat a fair and impartial jury here fails.
In her ruling, Judge Sweeney observed that the court was able to seat a fair and impartial jury for the trial of Toney’s co-defendant, Kevin D. Agee Jr.
Agee, of Garfield Avenue, who admitted driving the SUV from which the shots were fired at the Repchics’ car, is serving 31 years to life in prison for his role in the crimes.
Judge Sweeney overruled defense motions to exclude DNA and ballistics evidence from Toney’s trial, saying the evidence will come from experts representing accredited agencies, whose work has been reviewed by their peers.
Toney is accused of shooting the Repchics in a case of mistaken identity because they were in a car similar to one driven by people with whom Toney had been feuding.
The Repchics were shot at Southern Boulevard and Philadelphia Avenue after Thomas Repchic picked up his wife from her job as a secretary at St. Dominic Church.
Toney is charged with the aggravated murder of Thomas Repchic and with attempted murder and felonious assault against Jacqueline Repchic with firearm specifications.
Toney faces the death penalty because he’s charged with killing Thomas Repchic while trying to kill two or more people.
Judge Sweeney told the jurors not to see, hear or read media accounts of the case; not to conduct any of their own research into the case; and not to discuss it with anyone until all parts of the trial have concluded.