The seats in Morgan County’s jury box most often sit vacant, but January is going to give them a work out as the county hosts its third jury trial in a decade. Eighty potential jurors flooded the Second District Court room for two days as the jury hearing Scott Gollaher’s aggravated child sexual abuse case was painstakingly whittled down to 10.
Selecting a jury in a small, tight-knit community is not easy, something Gollaher, the defendant, pointed out to the judge Wednesday, Jan. 7.
“Morgan County has relatively few jury trials, and (Morgan County Attorney) Jann Farris is a prominent member of the community, a bishop,” Gollaher said. “There have been several articles published about this case with his comments.”
Eight potential jurors told Judge Noel Hyde they knew Farris through various associations including their LDS ward, working with his children, as a friend, neighbor and serving as elected officials with him. Eleven other jurors said they personally knew people listed on the court’s witness lists through associations such as attending the same high school, working for the same employer, seeing each other at the bank, serving in the same LDS mission and, again, living in the same LDS ward. Six had heard about the trial either in conversation or through media reports. Two had served as a juror prior to this case.
The jury pool started with 80 of all ages and walks of life including housewives, a husband and wife, a former Morgan County Council member, two current Morgan City Council members, former law enforcement officers, a former city council candidate, teachers, a doctor, computer programmer, cooks, pilot, genealogist, developer, mental health counselor, EMT, and social worker as well as those unemployed and self-employed. They came from all over the county, from Taggart to Mountain Green including the city, Enterprise, Milton and Porterville. All were caucasion and a majority had lived in Utah their entire lives.
The first day, three of the 80 were eliminated for various reasons. The second day, 77 reported for jury duty at 9 a.m. and didn’t leave until 7:30 p.m. that evening.
In the first wave of jury selection, 22 potential jurors were asked to introduce themselves to the court. After questioning, four potential jurors said they had been the victim of a crime or had close friends of family members who had. Five had family members who had been convicted of a crime in the past. Four had family members who were in law enforcement. Two had been abuse victims. Neither of the two former law enforcement officers made it to the final round of jury selection.
“A lot of us don’t realize we have a bias,” Gollaher said during the jury selection.
Six jurors were eliminated in that first wave. Half were dismissed because of their current or former associations with the county attorney trying the case. One husband was dismissed because Judge Hyde said it is his policy not to have spouses on the jury together. Another was dismissed due to medical concerns, while another admitted she had a bias to believe children over others giving testimony in court.
After those six were dismissed, six more were asked to introduce themselves and answer various questions regarding their backgrounds and personal association with witnesses and parties trying the case.
Four more were dismissed during the second round for work-related availability, relations to a law enforcement officer, having been an abuse victim, and reading too many details about the case in the media.
After the defendant and prosecutors took turns choosing jury members from the pool of 18 candidates, eventually 10 jurors were selected, four males and six females. Eight will be jurors and two more will act as alternates, although the jurors will not be informed who the alternates are until at a later time in the trial. The trial is expected to take 13 days and stretch through Jan. 29.
“Your participation is very important, and is significant and meaningful to the court,” Judge Hyde told the jury pool. “Keep an open mind throughout the trial, and come to a conclusion only at your final deliberations,” he told the final 10.
After reminding the jurors that Gollaher is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge stressed the need for absolute impartiality. He informed the jurors that they cannot communicate in any way about this case—to each other, friends or family members—during the length of the trial. They were told to avoid conducting any research about the case and particularly to avoid media coverage of the case.
Morgan County Sheriff deputies made sure the area the jurors were in was secluded from the general public to avoid any interaction with the media, the defendant, the prosecutors and witnesses.
During jury selection, the defendant expressed concern that one potential juror eating breakfast in her car before 9 a.m. may have seen him arrive shackled and in prison garb before changing into a suit and tie. He was also concerned after hearing potential jurors were discussing the identity of a prospective witness while waiting in the hall, asking the judge to throw anyone participating in the discussion out of the jury pool. While the judge did question the nature of the discussion, he did not dismiss the potential jurors.
“It is a normal, human tendency to converse with others,” Judge Hyde said. “But consider only evidence in the case. You are to guard against the danger of an innocent person being wrongfully accused.”