Jury selection began Monday and is expected to continue today in the trial of one of two Farrell men accused of the Dec. 30, 2011, killing of Farrell bar-owner William Basilone Jr.
Expect it to take two to three days for the jury to be seated, Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John told the 72 prospective jurors who filled his courtroom.
“You need to be brutally honest in this whole process,” St. John told them.
They watched a short video extolling the American jury system before the session started, and St. John reiterated the importance of jury service.
“The goal here is for you and I to be fair and impartial,” St. John said, to give both sides the fairest trial possible.
That said, St. John outlined the bare basics of the case:
Stewart, 20, of Farrell, is charged with first- and second-degree murder and two counts each of robbery and conspiracy. He is represented by public defenders James Goodwin Jr. and Autumn Johnson.
Stewart is alleged to be the man who shot Basilone five times that night.
He is being tried separately from Devine Campbell, 19, who faces the same charges and will be tried later.
Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems is being assisted by Lauren Hackett in prosecuting the case.
A part of Monday’s session focused on whether jurors had any connections to the accused, the lawyers representing Stewart or the prosecution.
A handful of jurors spoke privately with the judge and lawyers to explain those connections.
The pool will ultimately be winnowed to a jury of 12, plus two alternates who will decide Stewart’s fate.
The trial will take three to five days, and when deliberations are factored in, St. John advised the jurors who make the cut to expect to be occupied for about two weeks.
During that time, they shouldn’t discuss the case, read newspapers, or do any research about the case, the judge said.
“Your verdict will be based solely on what you hear in this courtroom,” the judge said.
The trial comes about one year and eight months since Basilone was gunned down outside his namesake bar.
Court delays have been common because of a changing cast of attorneys representing Stewart and Campbell and arguments by the defense and prosecution about what will be presented at trial.
Both men have been in Mercer County Jail since Jan. 2, 2012.
There have been several plea deals that fell apart at the last minute since they’ve been jailed, plus trials for other cases involving the pair.
Authorities allege Stewart and Campbell went on a crime spree in the last month of 2011.
The evidence gathered during those other, unrelated crimes won’t be allowed in the murder trials, at least in the way prosecutors have presented it thus far to St. John.
Authorities contend Stewart and Campbell committed four armed robberies in Farrell and two robberies in Sharon between Nov. 29 and Dec. 30, 2011.
Both also may or may not be subject of a federal probe into the gun violence in the Shenango Valley around that time. Kochems has said that probe may yield results this month.
Federal authorities don’t comment on pending investigations, but Kochems brought up the probe when he sought a continuance in one of the robbery cases against Campbell.
The cases are anything but clear and talking about them during the trials involving Basilone’s killing would “muddy the waters,” said Campbell’s attorney J. Jarrett K. Whalen.