Dozens of jury prospects, but no one to seat

Efforts to jump-start Clarion County’s jury trials after postponements prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic encountered a speed bump – a lack of jurors in one of the cases.

On Wednesday, the trial of Knox resident Floyd Harry Watson, 45, who is accused of repeatedly raping a juvenile over a period of six years, was scheduled to begin. However, a jury could not be seated out of the dozens of people called as potential jurors.

As a result, that trial will need to be rescheduled for fall.

The postponement of jury trials has created a backlog of cases. The postponement of the trial involving Watson, who is accused of multiple felonies and who remains free on $25,000 bail, adds to that problem.

Between Friday and June 12, there are six jury trials scheduled in Clarion County. Every one of those cases requires a jury of 12 people.

To meet the demand for jurors, jury selection is conducted at two locations: Court Room 1 and the Haskell House.

“That is uncommon,” Clarion County Prothonotary Jeff Himes said. “It has not happened in the 15 years I have been here.”

Himes said he was told the last time it happened was when Judge Charles Alexander was on the bench.

Deputy Prothonotary Alexandra Craig said 57 people were called for the Watson case alone. Juries were selected for four other cases on Monday and Tuesday.

“We just ran out of people,” Craig said.

Many people were excused because they were involved in graduation ceremonies and vacations, according to Craig.

The process for selecting jurors has changed.

“We used to use the pog system,” Himes said. “Each little wooden pog had a number on it. Each juror was given a number, and we would, randomly, root around in our little pog box and pull a number out. That was the juror who was called.”

The court administration tells the prothonotary how many prospective jurors to call in, depending on the case.

“If you are of age and a resident of Clarion County, you are a potential juror,” Himes said. “It does not depend on voter registration or if you are a taxpayer.”

Being selected to sit on a jury is a process that involves the judge, along with the prosecuting and defense attorneys.

“Groups of 15 to 18 potential jurors are brought in at one time,” Craig said. “The judge will start with her questions and then she will leave it up to the attorneys to ask additional questions. The jury can be struck for cause or other reasons.”

Jury trials will resume Friday at the Clarion County Courthouse.