Jury selection begins in Phelps trial

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The jury selection process began in the trial of Brandon Michael Phelps, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire, is accused of four counts of aggravated murder, committed in the course of rape, of aggravated burglary, of burglary and of trespassing. Each count of murder carries a death penalty specification.

His co-defendant, Devin Wayne Fuller, 21, 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire, recently concluded a trial and was sentenced to life without parole for of aggravated murder committed in the course of aggravated burglary, one count of aggravated burglary, and one count of burglary.

Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Fregiato will preside.

Lydia Ashworth, 92, was found murdered in her home June 30, 2012.

Phelps recently asked for a change of venue on the grounds that extensive pre-trial publicity may have made the process of obtaining a fair trial difficult. The motion was overruled without prejudice. The matter will be considered should the issue be substantiated in the course of the trial.

More than 130 potential jurors met Thursday and Friday. Further examination of the jury pool will begin next week.

Also, as each prospective juror is interviewed, the court will death-qualify them along with the typical selection procedures, rather than create an entire death-qualified pool and the restart the process again. Fregiato said he expects the process to take slightly longer for each juror, but the overall process should be shorter.

Meanwhile, prosecution and defense continue to organize evidence and experts as they are ready to make their respective cases.

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com