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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Opening arguments are expected to begin Wednesday morning in the Leon Houston murder case.
It was slow going, but jury selection finally ended Tuesday afternoon with a jury in place.
The case was expected to pick up again at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning.
The launch of Leon Houston's double murder trial Monday reflected the difficulties of trying to pick a jury in a small county.
The big issue wasn’t the vast publicity the case has generated for over two years. Many jurors said they weren't influenced by the media coverage.
More problematic was the relationships some of the prospective jurors had with the defendant, his father and potential witnesses in the case.
When court adjourned for the day Monday, no jurors who will sit in judgment of Houston had been picked.
“It may be slow, but none the less, I believe we're making progress,” Judge James “Buddy” Scott said of the selection process.
Houston is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony murder in the deaths of Roane County Sheriff's Deputy Bill Jones and Mike Brown. Brown was with Jones on a ride-along the day they were shot to death outside of Houston's home on Barnard Narrows Road. Houston's brother Rocky Houston is scheduled to stand trial for the same crimes in November.
U.S. Census estimates from July 2007 estimated Roane County's population at 53,399. Many locals have acquaintances or casual relationships throughout the community. That seemed to be the case for some of the prospective jurors as well.
Several said they were familiar with the Houstons' father Clyde Houston, a former county commissioner and respected figure in the South of the River community.
One jury prospect said he lives two miles from Clyde Houston's home and drives by from time to time. Another potential juror said he once worked construction with the elder Houston.
One prospective juror said he might even be a distant relative of the Houston family.
Those kind of issues are not uncommon in small counties.
Special prosecutor Robert “Gus” Radford is from Carroll County in West Tennessee, which has a population of around 30,000.
“We can't get jurors in that county that don't know somebody,” he said.
Radford said he was concerned by the relationships some of the prospective jurors had with Clyde Houston, but he didn't immediately move to have them dismissed from the process.
The prospective jurors said despite their prior relationships or knowledge of Clyde Houston, they could still be fair and impartial if given the chance to serve on the jury.
Based on those answers, Radford said he had no grounds to challenge them for cause, which means it would have been left up for Scott to decide the fate of those potential jurors.
Lawyers expect the case to move rapidly toward a conclusion.
Radford estimated that the state's case could be over by next Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.
Lead defense attorney James Logan said he may not put on any proof, so jury deliberations could commence by the end of next week.