Trial Begins Today For Joseph Thomas Who Is Accused Of Murdering Bartender

The jury selection, which will winnow a group of 140 jurors down to 16, is expected to take all week

The trial of Joseph Thomas -- -- is scheduled to begin today in Lake County Common Pleas Judge Richard Collins Jr.'s court room.

However, opening statement likely won't be delivered until next week.

In the mean time, prosecutors, defense attorneys and a pool of 140 potential jurors will go through a lengthy jury selection process to see if an unbiased jury can be put together for the trial.

If not, the capital murder trial will be held elsewhere.

The crime

McSween, 49, was found murdered Nov. 26, 2010, near on Andrews Road in Mentor-on-the-Lake. She had tended bar at Lakeway that evening and closed the bar by herself.

Her body was discovered behind a nearby house, next to the bar, at 8:39 a.m.

She had been beaten, strangled and repeatedly stabbed, Lake County Deputy Coroner Dr. Mark Komar said. She likely bled to death.

Evidence indicates the attack had been planned that night.

The .

The Mentor-on-the-Lake Police Department, along with Mentor Police Department, Crime Stoppers, FBI and Bureau of Criminal Identification, investigated the crime for nine months before a suspect was arrested.

They spoke to everyone who was at the bar that night and even offered a $30,000 reward for information that led to a suspect's conviction.

Then -- on June 7, 2011 -- Mentor-on-the-Lake Police announced they had arrested Thomas as a suspect in McSween's murder.

The suspect

Thomas, 28, of Perry Township, used to to live in Mentor-on-the-Lake, according to an arrest record from 2007.

Additionally, Robert Sylvester, a man who lives nearby Lakeway and used to be a regular patron, .

Then Mentor-on-the-Lake Police Chief Joe Doran said he would neither confirm nor deny that Thomas was at the bar the night McSween was murdered.

Thomas; but nothing in his criminal record portended a murder charge.

However, they do show that Thomas sometimes got into trouble when drinking.

Thomas was previously accused (though not convicted) of .

A few days later, Thomas was accused of stealing a pen set, lottery ticket, phone and Dell laptop from cars in Leroy Township.

When a deputy asked Thomas why he stole the laptop, he replied, "I really don't know. I was drunk and it sounded good," according to his arrest report.

When Thomas was indicted in October, he was charged with rape, tampering with evidence, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and aggravated murder.

The trial

Before the trial began, Thomas's attorneys -- David Doughten and Chief Assistant Lake County Public Defender Charles Grieshammer -- filed a motion asking that his trial be held outside of Lake County.

They said the extensive media coverage of the crime and Thomas' arrest in Lake County.

However, prosecutors rebutted taht their request was premature.

They before the jury selection process has started.


He said, until the jury pool is vetted, "this court cannot conclude that pretrial publicity has made obtaining a fair and impartial jury in Lake County an impossibility."

Consequently, the trial will begin with a lengthy jury process (called voir dire) to ascertain if the potential jurors are biased because of the pretrial publicity or their opinions on the death penalty.

Voir dire is expected to take all week. When it is finished, the court hopes to have winnowed the jury pool from 140 people to 16 unbiased jurors -- we regular jurors and four alternates.

Usually, criminal trials only have one alternate juror. However, Thomas's trial is expected to be lengthy -- as long as 3 1/2 weeks -- and the court wants to avoid a potential mistrial that could be created by running out of jurors.

In addition to being lengthy, this trial is also expected to be expensive.

Lake County Commissioner Ray Sines told The News-Herald that the trial may cost the county as much as $100,000 for Thomas' two attorneys, mitigation experts and the jurors.


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