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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Publicity has been plentiful throughout the murder cases against brothers Rocky and Leon Houston.
The impact that might have on jury selection for Rocky’s upcoming trial was discussed during a hearing in Roane County Criminal Court last Thursday.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult to get a jury, but we’re going to try to do that,” defense attorney Randy Rogers said.
Rocky and Leon are being tried separately for the murders of Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Jones and his friend Mike Brown. Jones and Brown were shot to death outside of Leon’s home on Barnard Narrows Road on May 11, 2006.
Leon was not in court last Thursday. His first trial ended in a hopelessly deadlocked jury. He’s scheduled to be retried next year.
Rocky entered the courtroom wearing a faded Loudon County Jail suit. Rogers made several requests to the court on his behalf, including asking Special Judge James “Buddy” Scott to recuse himself because Rocky believes Scott should be a witness in the case.
“The court will not be a witness in this case,” Scott told Rogers.
Rocky’s transports to and from the courthouse are being videotaped now after an incident that happened last month, when he allegedly spat on and fought with officers. Following last week’s hearing, Rocky sat at the defense table and had an animated conversation with Rogers as armed officers stood close by.
“We gone subpoena the governor,” Rocky shouted to his family as the officers led him from the courtroom.
Jury selection for Rocky’s trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 10. Prospective jurors have already filled out questionnaires. Scott said the answers indicate that some have formed opinions about the case that they can’t set aside.
That’s not the only problem attorneys might encounter when selecting the jury. Roane County is not a very big community, and some jurors are likely to have some connections that could be cause for dismissal. Those issues arose during jury selection for Leon’s first trial. One potential juror said his uncle was Kingston Police Chief Jim Washam. Some of Washam’s officers were first on the scene after the shooting. Several other potential jurors said they knew Rocky and Leon’s father, Clyde Houston, who is a former county commissioner.
Despite the complications, the lawyers will likely have to overcome it because Scott said he plans to proceed with jury selection as scheduled. Sixteen jurors will be picked to hear the case. Following closing arguments, 12 will be picked at random to deliberate.
Rogers raised another issue about the jury pool, telling Scott he believes the pool may have been skewed to exclude some sections of the community. Special prosecutor Kenneth Irvine said he was baffled by the allegations.
“It’s a very large cross section of the community,” Irvine said.