It was a long day at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s for a lot of people Monday.
A total of 215 people crowded into two courtrooms along with sheriff’s officers, lawyers and members of the media, all 215 of them summoned for jury duty at the murder trial of Brandon Phillips, 29.
The courtrooms were connected via video link, while a white tent had been erected outside on the sidewalk to hold the overflow of potential jurors until there was space for them to move inside.
By 4:30 pm, there were 116 potential jurors left; 99 of them had been granted exemptions after giving their reasons to Justice Valerie Marshall one by one.
In a typical jury selection procedure, the exemption portion takes an hour or two; in this case it will continue this morning, and then Crown and defence lawyers will get down to business weeding out people who may be too biased or impartial to participate.
It’s what’s called a challenge for cause jury selection, generally used in trials when the case received significant media coverage and public interest in the period leading up to the court proceedings. Lawyers will have the opportunity to question the potential jurors before opting to agree to their participation or to challenge it.
The Crown and defence are each permitted 22 challenges.
The people selected for the jury will then become “triers,” with the final say on which others will join them.
In the end, 12 people and two alternates will be chosen.
If the court runs through all the potential jurors before 12 have been selected, sheriff’s officers will take to the street to summon other members of the public.
Phillips, who sat in the dock during proceedings Monday, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Larry Wellman, 63, during a robbery at Captain’s Quarters hotel in St. John’s Oct. 3, 2015. He has also entered not
guilty pleas on charges of armed robbery, wearing a disguise with the intention of committing a crime, assault with a weapon, and unlawfully possessing a weapon dangerous to the public.
It’s alleged Wellman was a bystander, a patron in the hotel bar with his wife when he attempted to intervene and stop the robbery and was fatally shot.
Surveillance cameras recorded the robbery and death, though the images won’t be printed or broadcast in the media during the trial coverage: the court has ordered a publication ban on all photos and videos related to Wellman entered as evidence at trial.
Phillips is represented by lawyers Mark Gruchy and Jeff Brace. Lawyers Mark Heerema and Shauna MacDonald will prosecute, called in from Nova Scotia in an effort to avoid a conflict of interest in the case, given Phillips’ girlfriend at the time of the murder was Premier Dwight Ball’s daughter, Jade Ball. The two have long since split.
Six weeks have been set aside for Phillips’ trial, which will begin immediately after the jury is selected.