Jurors to be questioned Monday on pretrial publicity in Claudia Hoerig murder case
By Ed Runyan
The Claudia Hoerig aggravated murder trial will begin Monday with individual questioning of jurors to determine what they know about the case, followed by typical jury selection that is done in a group setting.
Judge Andrew Logan of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court suggested in his remarks during the final pretrial hearing Thursday that individual questioning will be done to address “extended concern” regarding whether an impartial jury can be seated in the county or whether the trial will need to be moved to another county.
The judge issued a gag order in February, ordering the parties not to discus the case outside of court because of the publicity it had generated.
The CBS program “48 Hours,” for example, started following the Hoerig case before her return to Ohio from her native Brazil and has continued to do so. Hoerig, now 54, was flown to Ohio in January 2018 to face trial. Brazil had refused to extradite Hoerig until the Brazilian Supreme Court stripped her of her Brazilian citizenship in 2016.
On the airplane ride back, she confessed to killing her husband, U.S. Air Force Maj. Karl Hoerig, but said she did it because he was abusive. If convicted of aggravated murder, she could get a life prison sentence.
Defense attorneys for Hoerig acknowledged in a filing Thursday that prosecutors are likely to present “uncontroverted testimony” that she killed her husband in March 2007 in their Newton Falls home. Hoerig fled back to her native Brazil just after her husband’s death.
Defense attorneys acknowledge that prosecutors will present a “confession, that Mrs. Hoerig shot Mr. Hoerig three times in their residence and that those gunshots were the cause of his death,” the filing says.
But they do not want jurors to be swayed by the emotion of seeing numerous, gruesome autopsy photos of her husband, so they asked Judge Andrew Logan to pare back the 64 photographs prosecutors submitted to defense attorneys as possible exhibits in the trial.
During Thursday’s pretrial hearing, prosecutors said they plan to offer only about 10 such autopsy photos. Defense lawyers and a magistrate will see the photos in advance, and a decision will be made before testimony begins about Wednesday on whether the 10 are appropriate, Judge Logan said.
Also Thursday, county Prosecutor Dennis Watkins addressed a motion by the defense that Hoerig’s former husband, Dr. Thomas Bolte, not be allowed to testify. Watkins said prosecutors had decided not to call Dr. Bolte to the stand. Hoerig and Dr. Bolte, of New York City, were married from 1990 to 1999.
Judge Logan also discussed a videotaped statement Hoerig gave to investigators at the county sheriff’s office about her husband’s killing the day she returned to the county.
Judge Logan said he would overrule a defense objection to jurors seeing a transcribed version of the interview and allow them to have it to “follow along” as they watch the actual video, which at times is hard to hear.
The jury will not be given the transcribed statement during deliberations and will be told “the evidence is actually the video of the statement and not the statement,” the judge said.
Jury selection is expected to take one to two days, followed by a trip to the locations pertinent to the case. Opening statements and testimony could take place as early as Wednesday.
Personnel with the common pleas court jury commission have called 75 people to report to the courthouse for the trial. The panel chosen is likely to consist of 12 jurors and four alternates.