Breckenridge Texan

UPDATE: Jury selected in Blair murder trial

September 18
13:00 2017
E.C. Blair photo

E.C. Blair

UPDATE:

After a full day of legal explanations and questions by the judge, the prosecutors and the defense attorney, a jury of 12 plus two alternates was seated after 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18, in the murder trial of Elton Carroll “E.C.” Blair Jr.

Stephens County residents packed the courtroom Monday morning as prospective jurors for the case being tried here on a change of venue from Graham. After the initial roll call, 90th District Judge Stephen Bristow considered exemptions and disqualifications. Then, the process of narrowing down the pool from more than 100 to just 14 began.

The procedure, known as voir dire, is the examining of the potential jurors by asking them questions about such things as any knowledge or connections they may have to the case, any predetermined conclusions they may have formed or any life experiences they have had that might affect their ability to be fair and impartial jurors.

Bristow explained some of the basics of a criminal trial. For example, he told the jury panel that the state – aka the prosecution – bears the burden of proof and that the defendant does not have to prove that he didn’t commit the crime. The judge went through a list of legal terms and concepts, sometimes questioning the potential jurors on their ideas and opinions on the topics.

“These constitutional rights that I’m talking about apply to all of us here. And, today, they apply specifically to this defendant,” Bristow said. “I have to get a commitment from you (the prospective jurors) that whatever prejudices you may have, you have to leave those outside the courtroom and base your decision on what happens in this courtroom.”

District Attorney Dee Peavy started her portion of the voir dire by discussing “Media, Coffee Shop Talk (Hearsay) and Otherwise,” explaining that although potential jurors may have heard something about the case in the media, on social media or from friends or family members, they cannot use that information in determining the outcome of the case.

When it was his turn to address the jury panel, defense attorney David Wimberley continued the process of identifying those with preconceived ideas about the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

The prosecution and the defense were each allowed to cut 11 potential jurors from the panel. Then, the judge had private conversations with a few of the jury panel before the final jury was named.

After the jury had been seated, Bristow gave them instructions to completely avoid any news or conversation, including texting, Facebook and other social media, conversations, media, email, blogs, etc. regarding the case.

The trial will take a one-day recess and then resume with opening statements on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

Original story from earlier today:

Jury selection for the murder trial of E.C. Blair of Graham is underway today in the Stephens County courthouse.

Blair was originally arrested in September 2015 on charges of capital murder in connection with the death of Leah Martin in Graham. Also arrested in the case were Ross Earl Hellams and Billy Ray Minkley Jr.

However, in October 2015, a grand jury charged them with murder, not capital murder. The charge of murder is a first degree felony and is punishable by five to 99 years or life in prison, as opposed to the maximum punishment of the death penalty for capital murder.

Blair’s trial was moved from Graham to Breckenridge in a change of venue to ensure a fair trial. The 90th Judicial District includes Graham and Breckenridge, and 90th District Judge Stephen Bristow will preside over the trial. Additionally, District Attorney Dee Peavy will prosecute the case.

Breckenridge attorney David Wimberley is Blair’s defense attorney.

The case generated much media coverage in Graham, beginning the weekend Martin disappeared after attending the Graham High School graduation on May 29, 2015. The last-known communication with anyone was that night when the 22-year-old spoke with her father on the phone. The next morning, her pick-up was found at her workplace, EC’s Auto Repair, a shop owned by Blair, but Martin was not there.

Fliers were posted around Graham, and search parties were organized. The case generated interest throughout the summer of 2015, as her family kept up the search for Martin. Following a lead, law enforcement officers located her remains in August of that year.

The next month, the three men were arrested on various charges related to Martin’s disappearance, death and the disposal of her body.

Blair has been out of jail since October 2015, when he posted bond. According to Young County Jail records, Hellams has been in jail since his arrest. Minkley was transferred to the Tarrant County Jail in February 2016 to face charges there in another murder he allegedly confessed to, and was brought back to the Young County Jail on Sept. 5, 2017.

 

Story by Carla McKeown

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