The Ottumwa Courier

Ottumwa

March 7, 2013

Techel trial proceeds without jury

OTTUMWA — Seth Techel's murder trial didn't take Thursday off, but the jury did.

That led to some confusion with people believing the trial would not convene. But there's a difference between the trial continuing and testimony taking place. Testimony at a trial, in which the attorneys question witnesses, requires the jury's presence.

But the jury does not hear everything that takes place in a trial. There are times when attorneys are in dispute about what a witness can be allowed to say or whether evidence should be admitted. They must clearly address those issues so the judge can rule. If the jury hears too much of those arguments, it can have the effect of introducing the jurors to an idea that the judge eventually excludes.

Judges will try to spare the jury if there is a major dispute by sending them out of the courtroom. It's not the first choice, but it's better than tainting the jury and having to start over.

What happens when there are multiple motions and arguments that need to take place? It makes little sense to bring jurors in for court, only to have them dismissed repeatedly for those arguments. That's the scenario for Thursday in the Techel case.

"The jury is not here today. There are several matters to take up today that, by their nature, are taken up outside the presence of the jury," said Judge Daniel Wilson

The solution this time is to set aside a day purely to work through those issues. Jurors were told not to report, but the attorneys and the judge are in the courtroom. They will, over the course of Thursday, work through the issues so jurors can come back on Friday without having constant interruptions.

A large portion of the morning was occupied with the question of whether the defense would be allowed to introduce information about the death of Brian Tate, the Techels' neighbor whom the defense claims could be the real killer. Expert testimony was needed to determine whether it could be entered or, as the prosecution argues, it is irrelevant to the case. The arrangements Thursday allowed Wilson to hear the testimony without unduely inconveniencing jurors.

Thursday also marks two weeks since the opening arguments were made and is nearly three weeks since jury selection began for the trial. Original estimates indicated the case would probably take two to three weeks, but jurors have been told to expect to report next week as well.

Techel is charged with first degree murder and non-consensual termination of a human pregnancy. He faces life in prison if convicted.

 

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