For the first time he can remember, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem found he did not have enough people to put together a jury for a trial.
Beetem had scheduled jury selection Friday for a jury to hear a murder case moved on a change of venue from Monroe County. Unable to get a jury in place, Beetem declared a mistrial.
James Addie, 54, of Mexico, is charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of armed criminal action in connection with the April 2018 killing of Molly Watson, 35, of Huntsville, according to court records.
Addie's defense attorney asked for the change of venue.
Watson's body was discovered off a Monroe County road, according to a Missouri Highway Patrol probable cause statement. Prosecutors said Watson was shot once in the head, and according to Addie, the two were to be married in Columbia. The pair had a relationship for seven years while Addie was married.
The trial is now scheduled for January.
"I think we ran into the perfect storm," Beetem said. "We had bad weather, and we were at the end of the time for the current jury panel to be on call. I also wondered if some of the problem was people scared of potential exposure to COVID-19 if they came."
Beetem said he wanted to make sure the public understands the courts have taken measures to try and minimize, as much as possible, the risks of COVID-19 exposure at the Cole County Courthouse.
"We are enforcing social distancing by marking the entire building off to where we can make sure that people are at the 6 feet minimum distance," Beetem said. "We require all persons to wear a mask, and you have to have your temperature taken before you come. There is hand sanitizer in every courtroom."
Because the courthouse is an old building with poor circulation, he said, they changed the way they select juries by bringing in people in smaller groups to reduce their time in the building.
"Last year, we had a jury selection where people stood in a line that looped around the courthouse, and some had to sit on the stairs when they got inside because we didn't have room in the courtroom," Beetem said. "That's not going to be happening again for some time with the ongoing pandemic. We're trying very hard for the experience of having to be in the courthouse to be a low-risk experience."
Prior to the pandemic, Beetem said, they would normally summon 100 potential jurors and expect to have around 85 show up. They would seat 65 of that 85 to go through the jury selection process.
"Today (Friday), I could only seat 15, due to the social-distancing requirements, in my courtroom," he said. "We summoned 30 and got a total of just 16 to show up. We were supposed to have another 30 come later in the morning and another 30 after 1 p.m. We also just got done with a local murder case on Thursday where 14 people had been chosen out of the current pool to serve in that trial."
Beetem said there are several cases ready to go to trial, with eight in his court alone.
To get a jury pool together, he said, the state's court administrator program searches driver's license IDs and voter registrations.
"You don't have to have both, just one or the other," he said. "After the group is chosen, we send out jury questionnaires asking for basic information such as their address and where they work, and most people respond back to an online address they are given."
Of those who respond, they put a pool of 100 together and mail them a summons for their first appearance for jury service, Beetem said.
"We use a call-in phone number, so if a person got a summons saying your first day of jury service is Nov. 1, you would need to call in on the evening of Oct. 31 to see whether or not you needed to appear in court," he said. "They would serve a term of 60 days."
Beetem said they will have to do more to follow up with people in the jury pool to make sure they know when they're needed to come to the courthouse.
"Another factor we need to take into account is several recent reports of jury service scam calls," he said. "If you get a call that causes you to wonder if you have jury service, you should call 659-2302, and the clerks and court administrator can help you verify whether or not you have jury service.
"Jury service is not a constitutional duty, but if you have been summoned, there is a court order which says you have to come to court," Beetem added. "The law requires that you address that. So if you have a summons for jury duty and you don't show up, you are likely to get a call from the court marshals reminding you about that service and the next time you'll have to come into court."