Roanoke Times Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: WEDNESDAY, May 30, 1990 TAG: 9005300178 SECTION: VIRGINIA PAGE: B1 EDITION: BEDFORD SOURCE: MONICA DAVEY STAFF WRITER DATELINE: BEDFORD LENGTH: Medium
Circuit Judge William Sweeney reversed an earlier decision that 25 Bedford County residents might serve as "backup" jurors in case 12 jurors and two alternates could not be found among 50 Nelson County jurors when Soering's trial starts Friday.
Sweeney on Tuesday upheld a defense objection to the arrangement and decided that if a jury can't be picked from the first group of 50, Sweeney will bring 25 more Nelson County residents as potential jurors.
Sweeney originally said he would bring in a jury from somewhere other than Bedford because of a rash of publicity about the case since Nancy and Derek Haysom were found slashed to death in their Boonsboro home in April 1985. Soering and his former girlfriend were charged in the killings of her parents.
Soering's defense attorneys had argued that if the judge saw fit to prevent Bedford County residents from serving as jurors in the trial, he should not then use them as reserve jurors, either.
Accepting the defense motion, Sweeney said, "Perhaps that would be more consistent with my decision."
Soering defense attorneys, Rick Neaton and William Cleaveland, also objected to Sweeney's choice of a jury from Nelson County, but Sweeney was not swayed from that decision.
The judge did accept into the record a pile of newspaper clippings and television channel rating information - which Soering's defense attorneys said showed that Nelson County residents had received some of the same media coverage of Soering's case as had Bedford.
Neaton said that if Sweeney had used media coverage as his basis for excluding Bedford jurors from the case, he should exclude Nelson County residents by the same logic. Some of the stories, Neaton added, had gone beyond straight news reporting to editorial comments on Soering.
But Commonwealth's Attorney James Updike responded that media coverage of Soering's case in recent months would not prejudice a jury against Soering.
Anyway, he said, potential Nelson County jurors cannot be judged on what media they have been exposed to, but whether they can be fair to Soering. "If you want to know whether they can give a fair and impartial decision, you ask them."
In other pretrial decisions made Tuesday:
Sweeney turned down a defense motion which had asked that the judge make his decision before a jury is picked on whether to allow as evidence in the trial incriminating statements Soering made to police in 1986.
Neaton argued that he should be able to question potential jurors about what they may have heard or read about Soering's statements. But, he said, if he questions potential jurors about their knowledge of the incriminating statements and the statements are then excluded from the trial, the jurors already will know that they exist.
"No. 1, I can't see the reason for it," Sweeney said, rejecting the request that he make his ruling on the statements before Friday. "No. 2, I simply haven't finished it."
Soering's defense attorneys asked Updike to produce a knife seen in photographs of the Haysoms' kitchen. Updike told the attorneys that he did not have the knife. He said the knife was not taken into evidence by investigators in 1985 because it was not believed to be the weapon in the killings. "This was not taken because it had nothing to do with it," Updike said.
Sweeney agreed to hold a hearing Thursday to determine whether the defense attorneys can enter the Haysoms' Holcomb Rock Road home for a 15-minute inspection. The current owners of the cottage home have not agreed to let the attorneys walk inside it, Neaton said.