Fifteen jurors – enough for a 12-member jury with three alternates for William Marcus “Marc” Wilson’s trial on charges including felony murder – were finally chosen and seated together at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday after two long days of questioning of potential jurors by defense attorneys and prosecutors.
Judge Ronald K. “Ronnie” Thompson then instructed the jurors to return to the Bulloch County Judicial Annex in time for the trial to begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Wilson, who is now 23, turned himself in three days after the death of Haley Hutcheson, 17, who was shot early June 14, 2020, on Veterans Memorial Parkway, Statesboro’s bypass.
After two years that saw in-person court proceedings halted for months by a pandemic and during which Wilson spent 20 months in jail and the last six months free on $100,000 bond with “house arrest” conditions, Thompson urged the attorneys to complete the jury selection process. The judge clashed at times Tuesday with Wilson’s lead defense attorney, Francys Johnson, over his repeated questioning of potential jurors in the racially charged case over “implicit bias,” a topic on which Thompson said Johnson seemed to be attempting to lecture or “educate” jurors, resulting in delay, rather than elicit answers.
The defense team – Johnson, Martha Hall, Mawuli Davis and Nefertara Clark – also filed a motion Tuesday to have Thompson recused from the case, not over those statements to Wilson but over his alleged handling of a PowerPoint presentation that Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office prosecutors reportedly sought to use with the prosecution opening statement. If Thompson were recused, he would be the second judge taken off this case, but he promptly denied the motion, leaving the defense attorneys possibly to appeal it to a higher court.
As of Tuesday, the judge’s stated position and that of Chief Assistant District Attorney Barclay Black was that neither side would use a slide presentation for the start of the trial.
Apparent jury makeup
Following nearly 20 hours of questioning of potential jurors over two days, the jury panel that emerged from a “silent strike” selection process Tuesday evening appeared to consist of eight men and seven women. Most of the jurors were white, but at least two Black jurors, both apparently women, were included. At least one apparently Hispanic person was also included.
Of 350 Bulloch County citizens summoned, 101 had showed up Monday morning, and the assembly was majority white to begin with. Some potential jurors were allowed to go home at various stages of the process and 39 actually seated for the final selection.
Before that, at the point where there were 40 jurors, prosecutors moved to excuse three “for cause” such as having shared about the case on social media or contradicting themselves over whether they had ever been convicted of a crime. The defense moved to have five jurors excused “for cause” including four white people who admitted having used the racial slur “n…” either in the past or recently. But the only juror Thompson removed, of the eight the two sides sought to excuse for stated reasons, was a man who had both used the “n” word and said he didn’t like Johnson in his role as defense attorney.
However, none of those eight, identified by juror numbers, emerged from the final, silent selection process as part of the jury. Each side gets a certain number of pre-emptive challenges, requiring no cause or reason, during that process.
Witnesses at earlier hearings testified that Wilson, while driving his car on the bypass around 1 a.m. June 14, 2020, fired a handgun and that a bullet struck Hutcheson in the back of the head as she rode in a pickup truck with four other teenagers from Claxton. The other occupants of the truck took her to East Georgia Regional Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead shortly after.
Wilson, who is biracial, has asserted through his defense attorneys that he was defending himself and his white then-girlfriend who was in the car with him from a racist attack, including shouting of slurs, throwing of beer cans and aggressive driving, by occupants of the truck.