. CLAIRSVILLE Potential jurors were questioned Monday in preparation for the capital murder trial of Brandon Michael Phelps, 21, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire.
Phelps 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.
Lydia Ashworth, 92, was found murdered in her home June 30, 2012.
Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Fregiato presided.
Phelps had 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 matter was brought before jury candidates by the attorneys, who questioned them about their exposure to information about the case.
Defense Attorney Jake Blakesly inquired if Fuller's guilty verdict would have any bearing on their decision. He inquired about juror's ability to put aside their feelings and opinions.
"A belief is not an idea the mind possesses, it is an idea that possesses the mind," he said. He asked if potential jurors might be influenced by friends, family and co-workers, who they would face if the evidence demanded a not guilty verdict.
He underscored the importance of relying on evidence presented, not publicity.
"The person accused of a crime should not be tried by the press. He should be tried by 12 jurors," he said.
"We don't try people in the media," said Public Defender Frank Pierce, adding that the results of the Fuller case should not influence them. "The cases could be entirely different."
Afterwards, prosecutor Dan Fry said the questioning of jurors was proceeding smoothly.
DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleadero nline.com