Montgomery County has first jury trial since coronavirus outbreak

A Montgomery County assistant prosecutor asks questions to a Dayton Police detective this week during the county’s first jury trial since the coronavirus outbreak. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF
A Montgomery County assistant prosecutor asks questions to a Dayton Police detective this week during the county’s first jury trial since the coronavirus outbreak. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

The first jury trial was conducted in Montgomery County since the coronavirus outbreak, but the majority of trials will be postponed until the end of the month.

Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Mary Montgomery presided over the case against Vincent Wright, a man accused of robbing a handful of Dayton dollar stores in 2019. The case is the first to be heard by a local jury since at least mid-March, when judges unanimously agreed to postpone jury trials due to COVID-19 until it was safe for jurors and court staff.

Wright was convicted of multiple counts of aggravated robbery Wednesday night with firearm specifications.

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An order issued at the end of last month extended the postponement of most jury trials until the end of June, but does allow for judges to decide to hold trials if they deem circumstances around the case mandates it.

“The court is also continuing COVID-19 mitigation protocols to enhance sanitation, cleaning, and personal hygiene throughout the Montgomery County Courts Building and its operations in the Reibold Building,” a statement from the court says.

Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Administrator Steven Hollon said there are other cases on the docket that could go to trial this month, but because it’s common for cases to be resolved via plea bargains or continued, it was tough to say how many would actually go to trial.

In the courtroom this week, the legal procedures remained intact, but the scene inside was different compared to before the pandemic. Jurors wore masks while listening to witnesses who were surrounded by glass to prevent any potential spread. Attorneys wore masks unless they were questioning the witness and the judge, the defendant, the courtroom bailiffs and staff all continuously kept their masks on throughout the hearings.

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When a witness finished testifying, court staff cleaned the witness stand before the next witness was called.

Though jury trials have been postponed because of the coronavirus, the court has been conducting hearings throughout the last three months. However, those too look different as those appearing are asked to remain outside the courtroom until their case is called. There are also signs hung up throughout the courthouse mandating that masks be worn and that social distancing take place throughout the building.