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Jury chosen in Culpeper officer’s trial

Daniel Harmon-Wright (center), a former Culpeper town police officer, returns to the Culpeper County Courthouse on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 after a short recess.  (Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star)

By DONNIE JOHNSTON

A jury of 10 women and five men will determine the fate of Daniel Harmon–Wright, the former Culpeper police officer accused of murder in the February shooting death of an unarmed woman.

Opening statements are expected to begin Wednesday morning in a trial that now seems destined to take far less than the 10 days of allotted court time.

While more than 100 citizens had been summoned for the jury pool, special prosecutor Jim Fisher and defense attorney Daniel Hawes needed to question only 40 Tuesday to empanel an impartial jury.

Before the selection began, Hawes said he thought it might take three days to find 15 jurors who had not been prejudiced by media reports of the Feb. 9 shooting of 54-year-old  Patricia Ann Cook.

And at the outset, Hawes did not discount the possibility of renewing his change of venue motion that Judge Susan Whitlock denied last summer.

However, while almost every juror admitted reading, discussing or watching something about the case, most said that they had not formed an opinion as to Harmon–Wright’s guilt or innocence.

The incident that resulted in Cook’s death began about 9:45 when Harmon–Wright, an Iraq War veteran who had been a Culpeper town policeman for five years, was dispatched to the Epiphany School parking lot on North East Street on a suspicious person report.

Cook was shot four times after a verbal altercation. According to earlier court testimony, she was unarmed and had no criminal record.

One woman in the jury pool said she had seen the story come on the TV news last winter, but added, “My fiancé said he had seen enough of that stuff and hit the remote to change the channel.”

She was not selected.

Another woman was disqualified when she told the court that she had worked closely with Cook at a local church.

One man in the  jury pool, responding to Hawes’ assertion that police officers carry guns to kill people, replied, “You’re totally wrong!” and began a several-minute debate with the defense attorney.

That man, a National Rifle Association member who said he had been a hunter since he was a child, was also eliminated from serving.

Perhaps the most interesting question Hawes posed to the potential jurors was whether they would be willing to convict a police officer who shot and killed someone if he was not faced with a direct threat to his person.

From the beginning, Harmon–Wright has asserted that he shot in self-defense after Cook had rolled his hand up in her Jeep Wrangler’s window and was about to drive away.

Harmon–Wright fired his service weapon seven times, according to earlier court testimony, with five of those shots coming from the rear as Cook, already shot twice in the face and head, attempted to drive away.

The fatal bullets came from the rear as she was attempting to leave. One struck her in the back of the head and another severed her spine, Fisher said.

Fisher has subpoenaed 29 witnesses, including five children from the Catholic school.

While the trial attracted about one dozen members of the media—including TV stations from Washington to Charlottesville-only five spectators who had no connection to the case sat in the frigid courtroom, which had no heat during the morning session and only minimal heat during the afternoon.

Almost everyone in the gallery was forced to bundle up in coats and scarves. Some even wore gloves.

Harmon–Wright’s wife and Cook’s brother were among those in attendance.

Donnie Johnston:

djohnston@freelancestar.com

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