Editor's note: The case never actually went to trial after Wyatt plead guilty Sept. 6, 2012. Read about the plea here.
The Del Norte County District Attorney’s Office is on the verge of its longest and most high-profile trial in almost a decade.
The trial of Jarrod Wyatt is scheduled to begin Monday with jury selection.
Wyatt, 27, a former mixed martial arts fighter, is accused of fatally beating Taylor Powell, 21, of Crescent City, on March 21, 2010, in a gruesome attack that involved mutilation.
Wyatt told authorities at the time that he was under the influence of hallucinogenic mushroom tea and he believed his friend was the devil.
He faces charges of murder with special circumstances of torture and aggravated mayhem, using a deadly weapon while committing a felony, aggravated mayhem and torture.
Wyatt has been in the Del Norte County Jail the longest of any current inmate while his case trudged for two and a half years through the pre-trial process, including a five-month suspension of proceedings while figuring out whether he was competent to aid in his own defense.
It’s uncertain how long it will take to seat a jury in the highly publicized case. About 1,200 jury summonses have been sent to Del Norte residents and only a fraction are expected to show.
“We’ll get 80 to 100 a day,” said Court Executive Officer Sandra Linderman about the summonses, which are for three different days.
The possibility of a three-week trial makes it more difficult to find jurors who can devote that much time, District Attorney Jon Alexander said.
At a hearing Tuesday, Del Norte Superior Court Judge William Follett reviewed a jury questionnaire with Alexander, special prosecutor Nico Mavris and defense attorney Jim Fallman. The questionnaire is expected to expedite the selection process by helping to determine who is qualified to sit on the jury before the attorneys ask any questions.
Some of the questions reviewed were whether potential jurors enjoy boxing or mixed martial arts, how they felt about performance-enhancing drugs, whether they know certain witnesses, Wyatt or Powell, and whether they read the Triplicate.
Follett expressed concern about an article in last Saturday’s edition about the Wyatt case regarding a defendant-shackling motion and a motion to include alleged violent acts committed by Wyatt unrelated to Powell’s death.
“That’s information that was specifically not supposed to go in front of the jury,” said Follett.
The motion to include the alleged violent acts was ultimately denied Wednesday. And it was decided that neither prosecutors nor Fallman will stand up when the jury or the judge enters the room so it doesn’t draw attention to Wyatt, who will be unable to rise as a result of being shackled to a chair.
Follett also expressed dismay about certain documents he was expecting to be finished by Tuesday.
“I’m chagrined at how much work isn’t done,” said Follett to the prosecution.
He said he was expecting the jury instructions and questionnaire delivered earlier than the start of the hearing. He also expressed dismay at the scant amount of information about witnesses that were expected to be called by the prosecution.
The attorneys also still needed to agree on what crime-scene photos would be presented as evidence during the trial.
Fallman expressed a concern about the photos being displayed on a TV screen in the court because the media would be present.
It was ultimately decided the photos would be displayed on the screen.
A recording of the 911 call made to dispatch, shears allegedly used to disfigure Powell, bottles of steroids allegedly found at Wyatt’s house and a brief video of the crime scene recently recorded are among the other evidence expected to be presented.
The rest of the evidence is to be given by witness and expert testimony. Alexander has listed 49 witnesses who could be called to the stand.
• Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist, who is a clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh and adjunct professor at Duquesne University School of Law. He has served as the president of the American College of Legal Medicine and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
• Kris Mohandie, a police and forensic psychologist specializing in assessment and management of violent behavior for over 20 years.
• Neal Benowitz, professor of medicine, bioengineering and therapeutic sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. His primary specialty is pharmacology of nicotine and other stimulant drugs.
With his expert witnesses coming from Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Eureka, “The logistics of moving them and feeding them is not an insignificant task; that said we’ll get it done,” said Alexander.
Fallman said he will be calling a few expert witnesses who have already been used during the Wyatt case. He also alluded during the hearing Tuesday to the possibility of Wyatt taking the stand.
Another court review of the case is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today.
The lengthy trial is going to tie up one of three courtrooms in the county, as well as a bailiff, court reporter and court clerk.
Linderman said she is still awaiting a response from the state Administrative Office of the Courts for an extra judge to help take care of the cases that would normally be heard by Follett during the Wyatt trial.
“It’s a little intense right now,” said Linderman. “There’s only a certain amount of judges in the assigned program and not all of them want to travel up here.”
The last time a courtroom was tied up for several weeks was during the murder trial of Robert Wigley in 2003, which lasted six weeks. Wigley, who represented himself, was found guilty of first-degree murder after a 22-minute deliberation by the jury. The victim was an 18-year-old woman who he raped, tortured, murdered and then mutilated in 1994.
“We’ll just play it by ear and do what we have to do,” said Linderman.