WHEELING - The attorney for former Wheeling police officer Matthew Kotson doubts the Ohio County Circuit Court will be able to seat a jury when the selection process begins next week, and he is considering filing for a change of venue.
Jury selection for Kotson's second of four trials on sex crimes is scheduled to begin Tuesday morning. The court will attempt to seat a jury from 28 people who defense counsel Robert McCoid and special prosecutor David F. Cross identified as acceptable candidates. Half of those prospective jurors will appear in the morning, while the other half will appear in the afternoon.
The court sent around 60 questionnaires to prospective jurors in an effort to expedite the selection process. McCoid and Cross have varying opinions about the qualifications of those individuals, other than the 28 who will appear Tuesday.
"Quite possibly, there could be an act of providence that could come down on this courtroom," Senior Status Judge Arthur Recht offered regarding the possibility of finding 12 acceptable jurors out of the 28 individuals. "You always have to have hope."
An additional 20 questionnaires could be sent out this week as insurance, Recht added.
McCoid, however, did not share Recht's optimism and announced he may seek to move the case out of Ohio County if Tuesday's proceedings foreshadow additional impediments.
"I would note that we certainly are fully contemplating filing a motion for change of venue based upon what happens or transpires during that questioning process," McCoid said. "We're not optimistic at all, frankly, that we're going to get a jury in this venue to begin with, but that remains to be seen."
Those questionnaires were mailed about two months ago, McCoid pointed out, before comments from Recht gained media exposure that ultimately prompted the defense attorney to move to have the judge recused from the case. That motion was ultimately denied by the West Virginia Supreme Court.
McCoid also requested Recht exercise authority to temper any combative interactions, saying the case already has created undesired physical confrontation between the defense and the courtroom audience.
The attorney said when former co-counsel Joe John tried to exit the courtroom during a hearing earlier this month, he was "body checked" by a family member of one of Kotson's accusers. That individual blocked the path of McCoid and Kotson when they attempted to leave that day as well, McCoid added.
John has since withdrawn from the case and has not returned multiple phone calls seeking comment regarding a reason.
"I would ask the court to admonish anyone," McCoid said, "that this is a court proceeding, and that the respect for this institution demands that decorum be followed. That includes a requirement that Mr. Kotson and I not be assaulted or threatened or intimidated as we exit or enter the building."
Recht said such behavior is "an act against the administration of justice" and is not to be tolerated. He warned that any individual who becomes confrontational will be held in criminal contempt.