A jury was selected to hear the trial of a man accused of killing 16 people, after a judge rejected a defense motion for a mistrial on grounds an impartial jury could not be found.
A dozen jurors and two alternates were chosen Monday to try R. Gene Simmons, 47, of Dover for two of the 16 slayings. Opening arguments were to be presented Tuesday.The retired Air Force master sergeant is accused of fatally shooting former co-worker Kathy C. Kendrick, 24, and James D. Chaffin, 33, during a Dec. 28 rampage in Russellville. Officials said Kendrick spurned Simmons' advances a year before her death and that Chaffin was a chance victim.
Prosecutor John Bynum said he planned to call as witnesses Tuesday Russellville Police Chief Herb Johnston, to whom Simmons surrendered, and David Eddy, a lawyer in the office where Kendrick was killed.
If convicted of murder, Simmons could be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. In addition to two counts of murder, he is charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of kidnapping.
Simmons faces a July 18 trial for the killings of his wife and 13 other relatives who were shot or strangled at Christmastime. Their bodies were found in and around Simmons' home near Dover, 50 miles east of here.
The trial in the two deaths was moved here after the defense said pretrial publicity prevented selection of an impartial jury in Pope County.
During the six hours it took to pick the jury Monday, Simmons murmured to his attorneys and chatted with reporters covering the case, asking for copies of their news stories. Security at the Franklin County courthouse was tight, with up to 10 officers inside the courtroom.
Defense attorney Robert E. Irwin objected after prospective juror Jack Morton of Ozark told Judge John Patterson, "I know too much. I've been working down around Dover a little bit. I've got my mind already made up."
As the judge ordered Morton to stop talking, Irwin moved for rejection of the panel of prospective jurors and a mistrial. Patterson denied the motions, saying no harm had been done.
The state struck seven jurors and the defense only one. Patterson excused nine others, generally because they said they already believed Simmons was guilty.