ELKHART — Can an impartial jury in Kosciusko Sheriff Aaron Rovenstine’s home county be found? Elkhart Superior Court Judge Evan S. Roberts, special judge assigned in the criminal case against Rovenstine, has a solution to find out now instead of opening day of the trial.
A test jury selection will take place in Kosciusko County Nov. 4. The bailiff of Kosciusko County will call the jury by the same means as any other jury trial.
Mechanics of that selection will be worked out that morning. Options for the selection may be one on one with the judge, prosecution, defense counsel and a court reporter in chambers. It may be held in open court as other jury selections. The test jury will help resolve the impartial jury issue.
Roberts and Jennifer Lukemeyer, counsel for Rovenstine who participated telephonically, stated should an impartial jury not be found, the court will be limited where it goes. “We can’t go north or east. We would be able to go west or able to go south,” Roberts stated. Lukemeyer stated the case may have to go as far south as Kokomo.
Roberts indicated he did not want to start the trial and be open for a mistrial before the case started. “I’d rather find out quicker than later.” Special Prosecutor Nelson Chipman and assistant prosecutor Tammy Napier, along with Lukemeyer both agreed.
“It may take one hour or it may take 10 hours (to find out). We don’t know what we’re walking into.” Roberts also stated finding an alternate county is not something that can’t be done in a week.
Lukemeyer suggested the trial jury date not be made public. She was informed it was too late as members of the media were present in the courtroom.
Other matters addressed included the defense sharing information with their client and interviewing witnesses without the prosecution present.
While the confidentiality order of the grand jury testimony was reitterated, Lukemeyer argued discussion with the client was necessary for trial preparation. She referred to the bribery charge and allegations the money was promised in a will. “We can’t effectively prepare without conferring with the client,” indicating based on their discovery, questions would need to be asked of their client. Also noted was this was not a typical criminal case where a police report would be available.
Lukemeyer announced interviews with 18 witnesses had been completed. Chipman spoke up referring to the smooth and open communication between the prosecution and defense noted by Lukemeyer wasn’t smooth if he was just now made aware of the interviews. Lukemeyer assured the court witnesses were not asked about grand jury testimony and were “anxious to come and talk. They were not intimidated or scared.”
Both Napier and Chipman noted their office had been contacted by at least one individual who did not wish to be interviewed. Lukemeyer asked to be given the names of those feeling that way. “We’ll take them off the list,” she said.
Roberts was prepared to issue a detailed order regarding witnesses, exhibits, exchange of information and so forth if necessary. “I hoped not to have to issue a detailed order. I expect you to comply without the order.” Both parties agreed the judge should not have to do such.
The trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 7, 2017.
Soto And Bronson
Status conferences were also held in the cases of Mark Soto and Kevin Bronson.
Conversations in these cases were primarily held at the bench and were not audible.
In both cases it was noted proposals have been made and depositions established. “Discovery is going smooth,” Chipman stated.
Scott Lennox, counsel for Soto, requested a witness and exhibit list. Napier stated she could provide the information in a timely matter.
Roberts did note any motions etc would need filed prior to 10 days before the trial. He also asked for a weekend following a motion to read the motion and research. “I have no tolerance for motions the day of the trial.”
It was clarified the trial will be held in Kosciusko County where the jury will be selected.
The next conference date was set for 1 p.m. Nov. 4.
Regarding Bronson, a date of Nov. 4 was set for any plea bargain submission with 3 p.m. Dec. 1 as a final date.
At this point Soto and Bronson will be tried at the same time. The trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 13.