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Court braces for crowd
Court braces for crowd

BLOOMINGTON - The trial of Maurice LaGrone Jr., who is accused of drowning his girlfriend's three children in Clinton Lake, will bring an atmosphere to the McLean County Law and Justice Center that hasn't been seen in the Twin Cities for more than a decade.

About 250 prospective jurors, a swarm of journalists from television and print media and an unknown number of spectators are expected to arrive with the trial's start on Tuesday. That means the center's staff has had to prepare to deal with a number of logistical challenges, said William Scanlon, McLean County's trial court administrator.

"The start of jury selection on Tuesday is going to be a busy day for the people working here behind the scenes," Scanlon said, adding the 250 jurors alone will pose the biggest problem. "It might turn out that every day of the trial is that crowded, but I don't imagine so."

The pool of jurors is likely the largest called since the 1992 and 1993 murder trials of three men for the triple slayings at the former S&S Liquors in Bloomington. Retired Judge Charles Witte said he asked for about 250 jurors for the trials and that jury selection during each took several days.

Potential jurors for the LaGrone trial will crowd the fifth floor of the Law and Justice Center near the courtroom assigned to Judge Ronald Dozier. Meanwhile, Dozier's docket of felony cases has been moved to a courtroom across the hall, Scanlon said.

Security in the courtroom will be another concern once the trial gets underway. DeWitt County Sheriff Roger Massey has sent three bailiffs and two deputies to assist with the security provided in the 70-seat courtroom by the McLean County Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff's Sgt. William Galloway, who has worked in courthouse security for more than 10 years, said making the courtroom safe and keeping spectators under control will be the main concerns for his officers during the trial.

"This trial is no different than any of the other trials we have up here," Galloway said during a murder trial last week. "It's going to be status quo because we've been doing this for a while and we have policies and procedures to deal with high-profile trials."

Massey said officials had initially talked about moving Lagrone from DeWitt County to Bloomington each day of the trial, but eventually decided on housing him in the McLean County jail. McLean County will be reimbursed for costs of housing Lagrone, Massey said.

Based on the nature of the case, Massey said he agrees that security won't be an issue during the LaGrone trial. The sheriff said last week's murder trial of Byron Merriweather, a gang member who shot and killed a member of a rival gang, had more potential for creating volatile security issues.

While officials are ready for security, the media could be the wild card during the trial. Scanlon said he's sure several local newspapers and TV stations will send reporters to cover the trial, but whether the case garners statewide attention or visits from CNN or Court TV is anyone's guess.

The plan so far is to reserve two rows in the courtroom - 24 of the 70 seats - for journalists. Every other seat will be for relatives of the victims and defendant and spectators. Scanlon said he'd be surprised if the case gets coverage by the national media.

"I really don't expect this to be anything more than a regional story," Scanlon said. "I could be wrong. CNN may show up and cover the trial. But I don't think that will happen because Illinois still doesn't allow cameras in courtrooms."

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