New jury struck in Harris murder trial

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Over 40 potential jurors were whittled down to 12 on Tuesday morning in the re-trial of Westley Devon Harris, the Crenshaw County man accused of the murder of six people.

Jury selection, which started last Monday, was finished by noon and Circuit Judge Edward McFerrin allowed the jurors - made up of five women and seven men - until 3 p.m. to collect clothing and toiletries for an extended stay in a nearby hotel, either Troy or Greenville. As suspected, the jury will be sequestered for the remainder of the trial, which may last up to three or four weeks, and contact with family and friends limited.

"It's possible I may change my mind (about sequestering)," McFerrin told the jury. "But it's highly unlikely at this point."

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McFerrin said the jury would remain together as a group and not be allowed to discuss particulars of the case with anyone. Telephone calls on a nightly basis will be allowed to family members, but the jurors will be forced to relinquish their cellular phones.

McFerrin also said weekend visits with family would be supervised.

McFerrin based his decision to sequester the jury largely because of Harris' mistrial last November, a trial over which he presided. Juror Willie Fred Johnson and Teresa Rogers were arrested amid charges of perjury and tampering, bringing a halt to the trial.

With the re-trial starting security around and inside the Crenshaw County Courthouse will increase said Chief Deputy Jimmy Lecroy. Visitors will need to enter the front of the building, pass through a metal detector and have personal belongings, such as purses, luggage, or other items, scanned through a machine.

During jury selection, visitors were allowed to enter in the back of the courthouse. Lecroy said that would be discontinued.

"The only ones we're going to allow through the back entrance is the jury, the defense and prosecution, the judge, and law enforcement officials," he said. "We know this is going to be an inconvenience to some people but this is what we're going to have to do."

The murder trial of Harris is the largest in Crenshaw County history.