After a day-long voir dire process that required the use of two courtrooms, a jury of seven men and five women, with two alternates, was seated Monday to begin hearing testimony today in Eighth Judicial District-North Circuit Court here in the first degree murder trial of Don Airsman, Jr., 30, of Texarkana.
Airsman was extradited from Dunklin County, Mo., in May, 2012, from his hometown of Hornersville, Mo., where he had allegedly fled to the home of his biological father after he allegedly shot and killed his stepfather, William Allen Jones, 60, of Saratoga, at Jones' residence in April, 2012. He was subsequently charged in Hempstead County with first degree murder and was jailed under a $1 million bond.
Jury selection Monday required the entire day, with some 128 prospective jurors summoned for the process, which began in the central courtroom on the third floor of Hempstead County Courthouse. After an initial period of explanation, prospective jurors were then called into the district courtroom down the hall in groups of six for the first round of questioning.
That aspect of the process required the entire morning and went into the mid-afternoon.
Eighth Judicial District-North Prosecuting Attorney Christi McQueen was assisted in the process for the state by Assistant Prosecutor John Crisp, while Eighth Judicial District-North Public Defender Danny Rodgers was assisted by Assistant Public Defender Anthony Biddle.
McQueen and Rodgers initially questioned prospective jurors concerning their qualification and willingness to serve as a juror, then the process was moved to the larger courtroom, where each side was given the opportunity to either accept or challenge before Eighth Judicial District-North Circuit Judge Randy Wright the qualification or willingness of each juror until a panel of 12 was seated and two alternates chosen.
A complete panel was seated by about 5:30 p.m. Monday, and Wright gave them initial instructions, including a warning not to discuss any aspects of the case with anyone.
“Including your spouse,” Wright warned.
He charged the jurors not to read any news accounts of the proceedings, watch or listen to any broadcasts regarding the proceedings, and Wright entered the world of social media in the final section of his charge, telling the jury not to use any sort of social media during the course of the trial in connection with the case, nor to accept any social media messages regarding the case.
Wright warned the jurors that any violations of that charge should be reported directly to him immediately.
Rodgers has given notice to the court that he intends to introduce multiple defenses, including a defense of justification, during his portion of the testimony phase. He refused to comment Monday regarding whether he intends to pursue that defense.
“You know that I don't comment on these cases,” he said in response to a reporter's question.
Page 2 of 2 - Under a defense of justification, Rodgers must show that Airsman “...reasonably believed that William Allen Jones was committing or about to commit a felony involving force or violence, and/or (2) was using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force...,” according to the defense's original filing.
McQueen said that she anticipates the prosecution's case to require about two days in testimony.
Wright has scheduled the entire week for the trial, if necessary.
Airsman was arrested April 28, 2012, in Kennett, Mo., in connection with Jones' disappearance as the result of the discovery of a body believed at the time to be that of Jones in a burned-out vehicle in Bowie County, Texas.
After a Hempstead County deputy discovered evidence of a disturbance at Jones' residence in Saratoga, upon investigating Jones' whereabouts at the request of Bowie County authorities, Airsman became the subject of a search that resulted in his arrest in Missouri.
Information concerning a series of events which allegedly occurred at Jones' residence was developed from a third party who has since become a material witness in the investigation; and, was allegedly present when Airsman is alleged to have shot Jones on April 27, 2012, and Airsman allegedly sought to dispose of Jones' body in the victim's own car.
Under the first degree murder charge, which is a Class Y felony, if Airsman is convicted he faces possible imprisonment of not less than 10 nor more than 40 years, or life imprisonment.