Attorneys quiz potential jurors in Helmick trial
It’s obviously not business as usual at the Mesa County Justice Center.
A free-standing sign at the entrance just past security lists a strict code of conduct for media and the public under the heading “Helmick Trial,” penned in thick, black marker.
A large video camera owned by NBC’s “Dateline,” the stand and wiring draped in black cloth, is poised above and behind the jury box in the courtroom, waiting to be turned on at the start of the projected five-week murder trial.
The parking lots outside are full, and entry to the courtroom is denied to about 400 people on a witness list, the names posted on a spreadsheet outside the courtroom.
Nearly all of the hundreds of jurors being escorted protectively through the courthouse’s hallways, elevators and courtrooms have heard at least snippets, either through news reports or gossipy chatter among neighbors, about the allegations against 52-year-old Miriam Helmick of Whitewater.
The trial for Helmick, who is accused of killing her 62-year-old husband, Alan Helmick, is one of the highest-profile cases in Mesa County, second only to a six-week trial for Michael Blagg, an event that also garnered national attention.
Blagg, 45, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2004 for shooting and killing his wife, Jennifer, at the family’s Redlands home in 2001. The Blaggs’ 6-year-old daughter has never been found.
Prospective jurors Monday were shuffled one by one Monday into the courtroom of Mesa County District Judge Valerie Robison for follow-up questions by defense attorneys and prosecutors about jury questionnaires they completed Friday. A jury may be seated by Thursday.
Had prospective jurors learned any more about the case through the media over the weekend?
Would it be too much of a hardship to sit on a jury for five weeks, forgoing normal wages for the $50-a-day stipend?
Nearly all potential jurors questioned Monday morning had heard about the murder. Then comes the question of whether prospective jurors’ knowledge of the case would keep them focused on evidence during the trial, a line of questioning used by Assistant District Attorney Richard Tuttle.
Head Colorado Public Defender Steve Colvin queried one prospective juror who had heard about the death of Helmick’s first husband if she would question why that information did not arise at the trial.
Helmick’s first husband, Jack Giles, 46, died by a gunshot wound to the head, the same way Alan Helmick died. Giles’ death was ruled a suicide and any information about Giles’ death cannot be presented as evidence in Miriam Helmick’s trial.
Considering the Grand Valley’s somewhat small-town feel and its longtime residents, it’s no surprise that some prospective jurors had connections with people or circumstances in the case.
One prospective juror lived down the road in Delta from Alan Helmick in high school and remembered the man as a teen, recalling the young Helmick’s penchant for driving fast and smoking cigars. Another prospective juror who lives in rural Whitewater and works for the U.S. Postal Service remembered murmurings about the murder at work the day it happened, June 10, 2008.
“That’s a big deal. That doesn’t happen every day,” Head Public Defender Steve Colvin offered about the murder during questioning on Monday.
“Not in Whitewater,” the woman replied.