Three jury trials were underway in Hinds Circuit Court on Tuesday, Sept. 15, as the courts began to settle into special arrangements for holding jury trials during the pandemic.
It was a coordinated effort among four judges as three of them took turns using the largest courtroom at the Hinds County Courthouse in Jackson to select juries.
Circuit Judge Faye Peterson said that it felt great to see the coordination working “and to0 actually realize we can try three cases at the same time and not cost anything extra other than PPE.” Although jurors came to court with their own masks, judges provided them with a personal protective equipment kit including a mask, a face shield and hand sanitizer.
In Judge Peterson’s courtroom, jurors sat spaced out on four benches where spectators sat in the past. During breaks, jurors went across the hall to a County Court courtroom. They will also use the next door courtroom as a jury deliberation room.
“It took a lot of maneuvering. It’s the new normal,” Judge Peterson said after she recessed court for the day in a criminal trial.
Assistant Public Defender Stephen Edwards said, “The challenge is for all counsel to communicate and the jurors to see the witnesses.”
As soon as jurors left the courtroom, Court Administrator Faye Jackson, Staff Attorney Corey Harris and Bailiff Donnell Cannard went to work wiping down benches, chairs, tables and other surfaces with disinfectant.
Down the hall, Circuit Judge Winston Kidd used Senior Circuit Judge Tomie Green’s second floor courtroom, the largest in the building, to pick a jury Tuesday afternoon, then proceeded with the trial in the same courtroom.
Judge Kidd said, “As long as we have enough space for jurors to social distance, everything appears to go well. We have had no problems.”
Circuit Judge Adrienne Wooten had used the largest courtroom on Monday to select a jury, then moved back downstairs to her regular courtroom to go forward with a trial. Judge Kidd moved out of his regular first floor courtroom to allow Judge Wooten to send jurors across the hall into the empty courtroom during their breaks.
Judge Wooten requires jurors to sanitize their hands each time they leave and reenter the courtroom. “The courtroom will be sanitized before each day of trial to ensure the personal health and wellbeing of each juror is uncompromised during this ongoing pandemic,” Judge Wooten said.
All the jurors currently serving originally reported for jury duty on Aug. 31 at The Westin hotel in downtown Jackson. The hotel ballroom was used to allow for social distancing of a large number of people. Jurors who were qualified for service more than two weeks ago will be called to serve during the six-week term of court. Some of those jurors may be called upon for jury service in more than one trial, said Hinds County Circuit Clerk Zack Wallace.
Judge Peterson praised the jurors. “They all showed up ready to go to work.”
Cases on trial this week in Hinds Circuit Court are Corey Lewis Jr., charged with sexual battery and armed robbery; Deangello Dent, charged with armed robbery; and Omar Muhammad, charged with aggravated domestic violence.