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Court Unable To Seat Jury

By Staff | Aug 3, 2011

Justin Riggs

Following nearly three hours of Voir dire, Judge Mark A. Karl declared a mistrial in a child abuse case on Monday after it was determined an impartial jury could not be seated. The defendant, Justin C. Riggs, 22, of 558 Kappel Street, New Martinsville, will return to circuit court Aug. 16 at 1:30 p.m.

During the jury selection process, termed Voir dire, prospective jurors were asked various questions designed to help determine and establish the 12-person jury. However, the issues of bias and credibility stunted the selection process. Several jurors doubted their ability to impartially hear testimony from witnesses they knew or trusted, particularly from the doctors and members of law enforcement listed among the 15 potential witnesses in the case.

In many circumstances, jurors noted they would trust information provided by such trained individuals over that provided by other witnesses based solely on professional credibility. Additionally, some were excused from duty after admitting to having preformed opinions on the case.

Of the 45 prospective jurors summoned for duty on Monday, six individuals did not appear. However, two had called in ill and were excused prior to the trial. Of the 39 jurors questioned, only 18 remained in the jury pool at the end of questioning. Twenty jurors are required before drawing the final 12 jurors, thus resulting in a mistrial. Notably, those absent few could have made all the difference in seating a jury had they appeared. The four individuals who failed to appear without prior notice will be summoned to court Aug. 16 at 1:30 p.m. to explain their absence to the judge. Fines or other consequences could be imposed for their misconduct.

On Jan. 26 Justin Riggs and codefendant Amanda D. Riggs, 23, of 558 Kappel Street, New Martinsville, entered innocent pleas to their two counts each of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury and malicious assault, felonious offenses said to have occurred on or about Feb. 18, 2010, in Wetzel County.

Amanda and Justin Riggs allegedly abused their minor child and caused bodily injury to their child with the intent to maim, disfigure, or kill, by inflicting injuries to the child’s skull.

On July 25, Amanda Riggs pleaded guilty to count one of the indictment via a plea agreement and was sentenced to two to 10 years in the West Virginia Penitentiary for Women. In accordance with the plea agreement, she had agreed to testify truthfully against Justin Riggs.