Moore's trial halted for a day

`Miscommunication' in jury selection

April 19, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A mistrial was declared yesterday -- before the first juror was selected -- in the high-profile trial of Richard Moore, who is charged with fatally shooting Baltimore County police Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero outside a Pikesville jewelery store.

Harford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. halted the trial yesterday after a morning of questioning potential jurors.

"I grant the motion for a mistrial because of a miscommunication," Plitt told a courtroom packed with potential jurors, many of whom appeared relieved as they filed out of the courtroom.

The mistrial was granted on what was to be the first day of jury selection.

It came after a morning in which sheriff's deputies barred the press and the victim's brother from the procedings. Deputies told reporters and Rick Prothero yesterday morning that the courtroom was too crowded with potential jurors to admit anyone else.

Plitt ordered sheriff's deputies to open the courtroom to the public when he was alerted to the problem during the lunch recess.

Legal experts said a defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial includes keeping the proceedings open to the public.

"There's absolutely a right for the public to attend a trial," said Douglas Colbert, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Maryland Law School.

Moore's lawyers, Amanda Bull and W. Samuel Truette, requested the mistrial when they returned from the lunch recess.

Plitt directed the lawyers not to discuss the case yesterday and later declined to comment on the reasons for the mistrial, other than to say that there was a "miscommunication involving the jury selection process."

The judge, lawyers in the case and Prothero's brother declined to comment about the mistrial.

The mistrial effectively delays the trial -- expected to last two to three weeks -- by only one day.

The mistrial came a day after the trial had to be postponed for 24 hours because Moore was too ill with digestive problems to attend jury selection.

Plitt said he is optimistic that prosecution and defense lawyers will be able to agree on a panel of 12 jurors and four alternate jurors by Wednesday.

Three other defendants have been convicted in the killing.

Prothero, a 35-year-old father of five, was shot three times Feb. 7, 2000, as he chased four men after a robbery at J. Brown Jewelers on Reisterstown Road, where he was working a second job as a security guard.

Moore, 30, of Baltimore is charged as the shooter and could be sentenced to death if convicted.

The trial was moved to Harford County at Moore's request.

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