More jurors picked for prison murder trial; two potential jurors jailed after failing drug test
By Paul Nielsen
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
MANTEO — Seven jurors were seated Tuesday in Dare County Superior Court for the first-degree murder trial of Mikel Brady, the prison inmate accused in the slayings of four prison workers in October 2017.
Six women and one man have been selected for the 12-person panel so far, and jury selection will resume this morning. Opening statements in the trial could begin as early as this afternoon if the remaining five jurors are seated.
Brady is on trial for four counts of first-degree murder and other charges associated with his and three other inmates’ alleged escape attempt from the Pasquotank Correctional Institution on Oct. 12, 2017. Wisezah Buckman, Seth Frazier and Jonathan Monk have also been charged with first-degree murder in the state’s deadliest prison escape.
During the escape attempt, two correctional employees — Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica “Ronnie” Darden and Correctional Officer Justin Smith — were killed. Two others —Correctional Officer Wendy Shannon and maintenance mechanic Geoffrey Howe — were severely beaten and died weeks later.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against all four defendants. Buckman will be tried in March while trial dates for Frazier and Monk have not been set.
Jury selection in Brady’s trial began Monday. So far, more than two dozen potential jurors have been dismissed, including two who were arrested when court concluded early Tuesday evening.
Kimberly Michelle McDuffie of Stumpy Point and Candace Geneva Kimberlin of Manteo were arrested and charged with contempt of court after both failed drug tests. Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett, who is presiding over the Brady trial, sentenced the pair to 15 days each in the county jail.
McDuffie and Kimberlin both arrived 15 minutes late to court following a one-hour, 45-minute lunch recess. McDuffie was noticed “nodding off” during the proceedings while some of Kimberlin’s answers appeared to be erratic.
District Attorney Andrew Womble asked Tillett to remove all prospective jurors from the courtroom before advising the judge that the pair seemed to be “under the influence of something.”
McDuffie and Kimberlin were removed from the jury pool and appeared before Tillett after the trial was recessed for the day. After Tillett sentenced the pair they were led out of the courthouse in handcuffs.
Several jurors were dismissed during questioning by the prosecution Tuesday morning because of their opposition to the death penalty. One juror told Womble that they go to church regularly and couldn’t vote to impose a sentence of death if Brady is convicted.
“My religious beliefs tell me it’s wrong,” the juror said.
Womble asked another prospective juror before they were dismissed if there were a set of circumstances that they could envision where they would vote to impose the death penalty.
“I’m not really sure but I’m pretty much against it in general,” the juror said.
Another juror that was dismissed said they were “worked up” about being involved in a death-penalty case and said they would rather not be involved.
“I will be swayed to (vote for a sentence of) life in prison,” the juror said.
The defense was able to quickly seek dismissal of six jurors when they began interviewing the pool of 12 prospective before the lunch break. The defense dismissed five more Tuesday evening before court was recessed for the day.
In a questionnaire that was filled out by prospective jurors prior to the start of the trial several of the dismissed jurors indicated that their personal opinion was that if a guilty verdict was returned against Brady that they would automatically vote for the death penalty. In a potential penalty phase of the trial jurors will have the option of sentencing the defendant to life in prison without the possibility of parole or imposing a sentence of death.
Before being dismissed a prospective juror told the court that if Brady was convicted of first-degree murder that life without parole was “not an option’’ in the sentencing phase.
Another juror told the court that “it was unfortunate that we are here” after mentioning the phrase “an eye-for-an-eye” and referencing the families of the victims in the case.
“If you take somebody’s life, why is your life any better?” the juror asked the court.