WARSAW — Eleven jurors were seated by the lunch break during the opening day of the trial against Dr. Mark Soto. Special Judge Stephen Bowers recessed the proceedings at 12:45 p.m. for lunch. The remaining juror and two alternates will be chosen when the court convenes at 2 p.m.
Soto is on trial after being indicted by a grand jury in February 2016, on three counts of corrupt business influence and three counts of intimidation. The hearing is being held in the courtroom of Kosciusko Circuit Court.
Selection did not begin until approximately 10:15 a.m. with seven men and five women initially seated in the juror box. The first round found seven jurors seated. The next round had nine jurors seated, with one more added following the third round. By the end of four rounds 11 were seated — five men and six women. A total of seven men and five women have been dismissed thus far.
A total of 62 potential jurors reported for duty.
During the voir dire both the prosecution, represented by Tami Napier and Matthew Sarber, special prosecutors from the Marshall County Prosecutor’s Office, and defense counsel, Scott Lennox, questioned the potential jurors on a number of topics. Areas of questions ranged from what beyond reasonable doubt means; any knowledge of those involved with the case, including witnesses; health issues, knowledge of the case, how one could tell if someone is telling the truth; if a pastor, Rabbi, community leader should be held at higher standards than others, religious beliefs prohibiting a potential juror from serving and if a business could be used as a front to commit crimes. There was also questioning about what is intimidation, what evidence is expected, proving intent and motive.
One potential juror, who was excused, noted “I want truth and justice for everybody.” Another excused juror who had an experience with the judicial system stated “I don’t like to judge anyone after what happened to me.”
Only one potential juror was excused prior to the voir dire after it was agreed serving on the jury for potentially nine days would be a hardship due to her family situation and finding a babysitter for her children.
Prior to the potential jurors being brought into the courtroom, several preliminary matters were brought before the court.
Judge Bowers granted the prosecution’s motions for immunity to one of the witnesses and a transport order for a witness. He took under advisement the motion to close a small portion of the hearing to the public for a specific individual’s testimony. He noted he would rule before the witness testifies following brief testimony if the threat against the witness is credible.
During the arguments on this matter, Napier stated the state is calling a witness who will be testifying about a criminal organization and its operations and methods. “Sometimes when a witness with a criminal organization is reluctant and fears retaliation.” She noted Warsaw Police Lt. Paul Heaton has received information the threat of retaliation does exist. Adding, Napier stated the testimony is to educate the jury about the criminal organization in the least restrictive means, while not intruding on the right of the public to be present.
Lennox argued involvement in that organization was the individual’s own choice and is aware of the consequence, however the court would make a decision at its own discretion.