By Andrew Hasbun
A jury has been selected, and opening arguments will begin Wednesday in the trial of Jackson Mayor Frank Melton.
This is the first of the mayor's gun related cases. Prosecutors allege the mayor carried a gun on the campus of the Mississippi College School of Law.
Eight women and four men will decide Melton's fate. Six are black. Five are white and one is Hispanic.
Before the jury was chosen, Judge Tommie Green told potential jurors to pack for three days. The jury, made up of nine from Jackson, two from Raymond, and one from Terry, will be sequestered. Those not selected admitted that every potential juror was familiar with this case.
"The judge gave us good instructions," said Shirley Hogan, a dismissed juror. "She told us to separate our feelings and what to consider, only the facts. It would be hard, but we had to do it."
That familiarity with the case made it a challenge to find a jury. Outside the courtroom Mayor Melton said nothing. His attorney seemed satisfied.
"We're going to our best for Frank. I can tell you that," said Dale Danks.
Jury selection is one of the most important phases of any trial. In a case with so much publicity, attorney Robert Wilkins believes the defense wanted someone who will look at the facts without bias.
"You have to find jurors that are open-minded that is the most important part," said Wilkins. "Because if you can get past that, then you start with a level playing field, and that is what you are really looking for."
For a juror to be chosen, both sides have to agree. Wilkins believes prosecutors were looking for jurors with a strict view of the law.
"They want people that are in authority positions, like teachers, military. People that are not going to allow wiggle room in the law," said Wilkins.
Rumors of a plea bargain had circulated all morning. Cameras were briefly allowed into the courtroom, and Judge Green asked Danks if he had anything to announce. Danks said he had nothing.
The Attorney General's office is prosecuting this case. Jim Hood has said any plea agreement would require the mayor to resign.
This is a felony trial so if convicted, Melton will be forced to resign and may also face incarceration.