Jury selection is now underway in Clark County in the capital murder trial of Jeffrey Weisheit.
Weisheit is facing two murder charges and an arson charge. He's accused of setting fire to a northern Vanderburgh County home in April 2010, killing his girlfriend's two children, five-year-old Caleb Lynch and his eight-year-old sister, Alyssa.
The trial was moved to Clark County after a motion by the defense. They claimed a change in venue was necessary for a fair trial and impartial jury.
A jury pool of 225 people has been pulled to select 12 jurors and four alternates. The trial, according to Clark County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Moore, is estimated to last about four weeks. Potential jurors today were instructed that if they are selected to be part of the jury, they would be sequestered at a hotel for the duration of the trial.
Before Judge Moore asked potential jurors questions as a group, both the State and defense were allowed to present a brief "mini" opening statement. On the State's behalf, Vanderburgh County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Gary Shutte told potential jurors that this case involves a "story you're not going to want to hear" and a "story we wish we didn't have to tell".
Schutte went on to say that the jury would hear during the course of the trial that Caleb and Alyssa's mother, Lisa Lynch, didn't know when she left to go to work on the night of April 9, 2010 that it would be the last time she would see her children. He told potential jurors they would hear about Caleb's badly burned body being discovered first, then a few hours later, Alyssa's. He went on to say that the seated jury would hear how Caleb's hands were bound behind his back with duct tape, that a rag had been put in his mouth and covered with duct tape as well.
In his "mini" opening statement, defense attorney Michael McDaniel told potential jurors that they would hear that the cause of the fire wasn't determined, nor was the location in the home where it started. In an interview outside of court, McDaniel told 14 News, "We're really looking at the fact, State's got a hell of a time trying to prove an arson here if you don't know what the cause of the fire, where it started, no motive, no accelerants, these are problems they're gonna have to deal with."
Only a portion of the 225 people asked to participate as potential jurors were called to court today. Others will be asked to report Tuesday and Wednesday. Judge Moore asked today's group of potential jurors several questions as a whole, like whether they knew the defendant or his family and if they had already formed a definite opinion about the case.
After group questioning, the State and defense were able to begin the voir dire process, questioning jurors in greater depth, three at a time.
By the lunch break, shortly after noon, only six potential jurors had been questioned. After each group of 12 completes the voir dire process, potential jurors should learn whether or not they have been asked to serve on the actual jury.
This is a case more than three years in the making, and one that both sides agree will be an emotional one.
"In both groups (of potential jurors questioned), the fact that we're dealing with the death of two children in an arson is extremely upsetting. It's upsetting to everybody, upsetting to counsel, the jurors, the judge, it's a tragic situation," said one of Weisheit's attorneys, Michael McDaniel.
"Any time you've got a five year old and an eight year old who met the end that they did, it's gonna be tough for the jury to hear. And like Mr. McDaniel said, it's gonna be tough for everybody involved, for everybody in the courtroom. So it's gonna be an emotional case, but we'll get it done," added Vanderburgh County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Gary Shutte.
Judge Moore says they expect to continue until 4:30 or 5pm EST today. It's not clear how long jury selection will last.
The trial is expected to last three to five weeks.
Officials are expecting a capacity crowd for this trial, so some rules have been put into place.
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