The trial of capital murder suspect Roger Dale Stevens will start Monday with additional alternate jurors, a cutoff point for the display of potentially "gruesome" photos and a witness tested for COVID-19.
A Morgan County Circuit Court jury of 10 men and six women, which includes four alternates, will hear the case. Stevens, 68, is charged with killing his ex-wife, Kay Letson Stevens, 64, on Nov. 14, 2015, the day after their divorce was finalized. He faces four counts of capital murder.
A former crime scene technician is expected to testify in the case, and Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson said on Friday that prosecutors were still awaiting word on the results of Johnny Lowery’s COVID-19 test after his exposure to the virus.
Stevens’ attorneys, prosecutors and Circuit Judge Jennifer Howell, who is hearing the case, discussed possible precautions that could be taken in the courtroom to accommodate Lowery’s testimony, including having jurors sit at the back of the gallery and having Lowery wear a face shield and sit behind a plexiglass shield. Anderson said that the chair that Lowery sits in to give his testimony and any equipment would be sanitized after Lowery leaves the courtroom.
The precautions should provide “plenty of protection,” Anderson said.
Ron Smith, one of Stevens’ attorneys, asked if there are Alabama Administrative Office of the Courts procedures in place to deal with the issue.
As for the number of jurors in the case, Alabama rules of criminal procedure say that judges may, in their discretion, qualify such alternate jurors as they deem necessary except that in capital cases, judges will qualify at least two alternate jurors, as required by law. Howell explained to the jury pool before the jury was struck that there would be an additional two alternate jurors for this case due to COVID-19.
Several motions were taken up Friday before a jury was struck.
Stevens’ attorneys had filed a motion asking that Howell exclude “gruesome” photographs of the victim and “prejudicial and inflammatory evidence” from the first phase of the trial. The state can establish the cause of death through the testimony of the medical examiner and investigating officers, according to the motion.
Smith asked that the use of photographs be “limited in scope.”
In response, Howell asked Johnny Coker, the investigator with the district attorney’s office, to pull any photographs from the screen once witnesses complete their testimony.
Stevens’ lawyers had also filed a motion asking for permission to have an additional court reporter, at Stevens’ expense, to provide transcripts to prepare Stevens “an adequate defense.” Smith said the court reporter would prepare transcripts for the opening statements and the medical examiner’s testimony.
Anderson argued that an additional court reporter would be “completely confusing to the jury. … We’ve never had it before. We don’t need it now.”
Howell granted the request in part, saying that the court reporter would be allowed to discreetly set up in the gallery of the courtroom, not beside the defense attorneys, and Stevens’ lawyers could not make reference to those transcripts.