Morgan County murder suspect objects to trial during pandemic

COVID-19 brings jury trial concerns

DECATUR, Ala. (WAFF) - The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down jury trials across Alabama for the past six months.

Now, there’s a plan to resume them in mid-September. One man who’ll be standing trial for murder in Morgan County says it’s against his constitutional rights.

Attorneys for Roger Dale Stevens filed motions to delay his September 14 trial. Nick Heatherly and Ronald Smith filed paperwork, reading in part: “Mr. Stevens shouldn’t have to choose between his right to a speedy trial and his other rights... That choice should be freely made by Mr. Stevens and not a decision imposed upon him due to COVID-19 restrictions and public safety mandates.”

Attorney Ron Smith tells us his age puts him at increased risk for COVID-19 and that him wearing a mask might prejudice a jury who associate masks with criminals. They add social distancing will make it hard for attorneys to “observe non-verbal cues during (jury selection) and testimony.”

“When the witness is up there testifying about a fact and he has something important that we have to know before we cross examine that witness, we need to be able to communicate with him. Our goal is to make sure with those changes don’t come any watering down of our client’s constitutional rights,” Smith said.

Stevens is accused of killing his ex-wife at her Decatur bakery two days after their divorce in 2015. He’s been in the Morgan County jail since he was arrested following a standoff the day of the murder.

The Alabama Supreme Court has already ruled that trials can resume in September.

You can read much more about the attorney’s arguments, and how other legal experts feel about them in today’s edition of the Decatur Daily.

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