By Ed Runyan
The first of 10 people dismissed Thursday from serving on the jury in the Nasser Hamad aggravated-murder trial apparently was viewed as too close to one of the witnesses in the case.
The woman was among the first 12 people seated in the jury box. Those 12 would remain in those seats unless one of the attorneys for the prosecution or defense uses a peremptory challenge and asks for the person to be dismissed.
No reason for the dismissal is required.
The 12 and the other approximately 30 people seated in the gallery were told the names of witnesses expected to testify at the trial and were asked if they knew any of them.
By the end of the elimination process, six men and six women were seated on the jury, and four women were selected as alternates.
The first person dismissed said she knew a little about Tracy Hendrickson, a woman Judge Ronald Rice has called to testify at the trial. Hendrickson is Hamad’s girlfriend and the mother of Bryce Hendrickson, 20, one of the people Hamad is accused of shooting Feb. 25 in a confrontation in front of Hamad’s home on state Route 46 in Howland. Two other young men died that day.
The potential juror said Tracy Hendrickson was the “lunch lady 10 years ago at the school where my kids went to school.”
The woman added, “I don’t know her. I just now she was the lunch lady.”
The potential juror said she also knew Hendrickson and her husband, Brian Hendrickson, from peewee football when their kids were young.
Chris Becker, assistant county prosecutor, asked the potential juror if she realized that Tracy Hendrickson had “liked” the woman’s Facebook page at some point. The woman said she didn’t know that and was not a “friend” of hers.
The potential juror said she could be fair in evaluating Tracy Hendrickson’s testimony and unbiased.
She was replaced by the next person on the list.
The shootings occurred after a monthslong feud involving Hamad and members of Tracy Hendrickson’s family. Tracy Hendrickson was at Hamad’s house at the time of the shootings.
Those killed were Joshua Haber, 19, and Josh Williams, 20. Those injured were Bryce Hendrickson, John Shively, 17, and April Trent-Vokes, 42, who police say drove the four males to Hamad’s home. All were related in some way to Tracy and Brian Hendrickson.
Bryce Hendrickson was on the witness list for the trial, but he died in a home in McDonald on Sept. 30. Police suspect his death and that of a woman with him were the result of a drug overdose.
Robert Dixon, one of Hamad’s defense attorneys, asked the potential jurors how they felt about firearms. No one said they had strong feelings for or against.
Dixon acknowledged that the two people who died Feb. 25 “were killed by Mr. Hamad. You are going to hear that evidence.”
But he asked the potential jurors whether killing someone is always a crime.
Several people spoke up about self-defense, such as having to kill a robber, or killing someone by accident.
Dixon asked whether anyone would be so upset by seeing gory photos of victims that it would prevent them from judging Hamad’s guilt or innocence only on the facts.
Everyone agreed they would not be overcome by the photos.
One woman allowed to remain on the jury panel said she is a visual artist who also writes novels, including mysteries. One man allowed to remain said he “raised a wolf.” Dixon had to ask him to repeat that to be sure he heard it right.
The two assistant prosecutors handling the case dismissed three potential jurors, while the defense attorneys dismissed five. After placing the next four lowest numbers in the seats for alternates, the assistant prosecutors and defense attorneys both dismissed one.
When they were finished, there were still about 15 potential jurors available who could have been put in one of the juror chairs and questioned if it had been necessary.
The 12 jurors and four alternates will return today for a bus trip to the scene of the shootings. Opening statements and witness testimony will begin Monday morning.