ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The jury pool is ready in the trial of Devin Wayne Fuller, 20, 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire. He is charged with counts of aggravated murder, committed in the course of rape and aggravated burglary. He is also charged with one count aggravated burglary and one count burglary.
His co-defendant is Brandon Michael Phelps, 21, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire. Both face two additional counts of trespassing.
Fuller faces possible sentences of 25-to-life, 30-to-life, life without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty.
The victim, Lydia Ashworth, 92, was found dead in her Bellaire home in 2012.
Selection of 12 jurors and two alternates will begin today.
Prosecutor Dan Fry said the jury pool is sufficient to proceed to trial. Seating will begin Thursday. There will be no court proceedings Friday in Fuller's case.
Opening statements and testimony will begin Monday.
Fry noted that Wednesday marked the seventh day of jury selection, with an average of about 20 jurors per day out of close to 150 in total. Fry said about 35 percent of jurors have made it into the selection pool.
"I'm not surprised at all. Death penalty cases in the state of Ohio are the exception, not the rule. There have been very few of those prosecuted," he said, noting the process necessary to determine if the potential jurors are best suited to follow the perimeters of the law and remain fair and impartial in a difficult case. "We all have our pre-conceived notions about what we think the death penalty is and how it operates, but invariably when jurors are advised as to how it works in the state of Ohio, most are surprised that it works the way it does."
He added that the death penalty is not a mandatory charge.
"There are no offenses in which the death penalty is mandated. It's all discretionary. There's only certain offenses where the death penalty is even allowed. Where it is permitted, the jury still has to make that determination."
Fry credits Paul Scarcella of the Ohio District Attorney's office, Capital Punishment division, for lending expertise.
"Death penalty cases are the exception in this state. Paul and his division within the attorney general's office, that's all they do are death penalty cases throughout the state, so he brings a wealth of knowledge to a small county like Belmont County."
He also gave credit to Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Flanagan for his contribution to the case.
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org