Hundreds of people have been summoned for jury duty at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s this morning, as an unusual jury selection process begins for the murder trial of Brandon Phillips.
The 12-person jury will be chosen via a challenge for cause procedure, meaning potential jurors will be questioned in an attempt to weed out those who have biases, among other reasons. Both the Crown and defence lawyers will have the ability to challenge the inclusion on the jury people they believe won’t be able to be impartial.
While relatively rare, the procedure is generally implemented in cases where there has been significant media coverage surrounding the alleged crime in the time leading up to the trial. Usually it’s the lawyer for the accused who applies to the judge to proceed with a challenge for cause jury selection.
The potential jurors in court today will be split between courtrooms while waiting to be called, connected by video link.
Phillips, 28, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Larry Wellman, 63, in the first degree during an armed robbery at Captain's Quarters hotel on Kings Bridge Road in St. John's Oct. 3, 2015. He has also entered not guilty pleas on charges of armed robbery, wearing a disguise with the intention of committing a crime, assault with a weapon and unlawfully possessing a weapon dangerous to the public.
It’s alleged Wellman was a bystander; a patron in the hotel bar who tried to stop the robbery and was shot to death. The robbery and murder were captured by surveillance cameras, though the images won’t be published or broadcast in the media in the coverage of Phillips’ trial: the court has ordered a publication ban on all photos and video with Wellman in them that are entered as evidence at trial.
Phillips was arrested Oct. 10, 2015 at a Quidi Vidi Road residence in which he was staying with his girlfriend.
Phillips is represented by lawyers Jeff Brace and Mark Gruchy. Lawyers from Nova Scotia have been called in as prosecutors in an effort to avoid a conflict of interest in the case, since Phillips’ then-girlfriend is Jade Ball, the daughter of Premier Dwight Ball.
Six weeks have been set aside for the trial, which will begin as soon as the jury is chosen.