About 40 jurors appeared on the first day of jury selection at the center, nestled in a quiet, wooded area behind Meadowvale Elementary School. The jurors were all situated six feet apart from one another under the building’s yellowing fluorescent lights.
It was an unusual place for court proceedings, Harford County Circuit Court Judge Yolanda Curtin said. The experience was new for everyone — jurors, lawyers and judge — but necessary for Harford County’s first major criminal jury trial since the state’s judiciary moved into stage five of its reopening. Maryland’s courts closed in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Appearing [for jury selection] at a location that is not a courthouse is a unique experience,” Curtin said. “It is for us as well.”
At the doors to the center, Harford County Sheriff’s deputies placed a metal detector and circulated around the small waiting room leading to the larger selection room.
Social distancing signs were posted at the entrance, reminding prospective jurors to stay six feet apart, and hand-sanitizer was available at several stations.
Jurors had to wear masks, fill out a screening questionnaire and submit to a temperature check before they were allowed inside. The room is also sanitized after use, the same precautions being taken at the circuit courthouse in Bel Air.
The circuit court has its own jury assembly room, but social distancing guidelines cuts its capacity from 150 to about 25, requiring the court to seek out other places to convene juries for selection.
Inside the community center, nearly 70 numbered chairs spaced apart from each other lined the room, though only about 40 were filled. Instead of the customary solid bar separating the room, a low, black-curtained wall had been set up; behind it stood the attorneys' tables and a raised bench for Curtin against a backdrop of thin black cloth. On several occasions that required the attorneys and judge to speak privately, they could be seen and heard conferring through the curtain.
Jurors were instructed to stand and say their number if any of the questions Curtin asked applied to them. Toward the rear of the room, a cricket chirped intermittently as she waited for responses.
Many of the questions were standard — do you know the defendant, the lawyers, the witnesses? — but some touched on issues unique to the coronavirus pandemic, including jurors feelings for their safety. Only a handful stood when asked if they had any concerns with COVID-19.
Curtin also asked if any of the jurors would weigh remote testimony more or less than in-person testimony — an issue that cropped up at the case’s hearing last week. None of the jurors stood for that question.
Almost all the jurors indicated they had heard something about the case when Curtin asked.
Prosecutors allege that Prince opened fire on his coworkers at Advanced Granite Solutions in 2017, killing three and injuring two more, before going to Delaware and shooting another man who he had worked with at a used car dealership.
At the end of the questions, jurors who stood were taken to a separate room to be asked questions away from the main group — except for juror number 7, who stood and flatly read out his number many times when asked if he knew any of the officers involved in the case. Curtin dismissed him shortly after the initial questioning ended.