MADISON COUNTY, Ala. — Jury trials will resume in Madison County next month, but trials for some of the most heinous crimes charged, capital murder cases, will be on hold for the rest of the year.
As officials at the Madison County Courthouse work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, limiting the number of people in the building and ensuring people are able to practice social distancing are top priorities, but it’s creating a challenge. There simply isn’t the space to conduct jury selection the way they could before.
Jurors will now be legally qualified online instead of in-person. After that they will be randomly selected into a 30 person panel and notified when their panel needs to be at the courthouse.
“I indicated to the judges that we simply could not try any capital murder cases this year, because you know, we have one courtroom we can get 30 people in for voir dire and jury selection. For capital murder you need three to four times that, minimum,” said presiding Judge Ruth Ann Hall.
Because of that, Judge Hall says it could take four days to go through panels for a capital murder case.
“The questions for the capital murder cases, it’s intense, and it takes a long time, and so you would have to bring 30 at a time. So, you’d have to bring four different panels,” the judge explained.
According to District Attorney Rob Broussard at least three capital murder cases were set to be tried in 2020.
The first death penalty case on the 2020 calendar involved Warren Hardy, charged with killing 72-year-old Kathleen Lundy, of Huntsville, during a crime spree in August 2016.
Trials were also set for Rhonda Carlson and Christopher Henderson, a husband and wife accused of murdering a family in New Market and setting their house on fire.
Judge Hall says she knows this decision means those defendants will continue to sit in jail and victims’ families will have a longer wait. But very little in 2020 has gone as planned.
Madison County jury summons were put in the mail last week. Judge Halls says she expects people will begin receiving them in their mail box in the next few days. Jury trials will begin October 19th.