Mike Atterberry

Assistant Attorney General Mike Atterberry delivers closing statements in a November 2012 trial at the Whiteside County Courthouse in Morrison. (AP Photo/Sauk Valley Media, Alex T. Pashcal, Pool)

PEORIA — Three women and a man were chosen Wednesday as the first four jurors in the murder trial of an Armington man accused of killing a Beason family.

Lawyers for the state and defense agreed to accept the potential jurors who were the first group to answer questions from Judge Scott Drazewski and lawyers for both sides in the trial of Christopher Harris.

Harris, 34, and his brother Jason, are accused of the brutal beating deaths of Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children in 2009 in their Logan County home.

Those selected so far for the panel are a retired optician, a consultant, a casino hostess — all women —and a man who is general manager of an industrial cleaning firm.

Nine of 30 Peoria County residents who reported for jury service in the Harris case were questioned individually in the courtroom.

The ability to set aside what they may have heard about the case and decide a verdict based on what is said in court was among the issues covered by the lawyers.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Atterberry asked the retired optician if she would hold the state to a standard above the legal benchmark of beyond a reasonable doubt.

“If you feel like someone’s life is in the balance ... but I would try to follow the law,” said the woman.

Atterberry and Steven Nate are assisting Logan County State’s Attorney Jonathan Wright with the state’s case.

Harris’ self-defense claim that he killed 14-year-old victim Dillen Constant after he walked in on a killing spree by the youth was the focus of other questions.

Dressed in a white shirt, blue tie and leg shackles, Harris studied the jury surveys and took notes during the third day of the trial. He consulted frequently with defense lawyers Daniel Fultz and Peter Naylor.

The reaction to graphic crime scene photos expected to be shown to jurors also was explored.

Naylor told one potential juror that “there will be photos that are not just unsettling but highly graphic and gut-wrenching.”

Three of five people questioned Wednesday afternoon were excused. In an emotional exchange with Fultz, a second-grade teacher cried when asked if she would have trouble listening to evidence about the deaths of children.

“These are children who died. As an educator that’s very upsetting,” said the woman, who was later excused.

A second woman, a grandmother who shared the fact that she stopped watching “CSI” after it became too violent, also was released from service.

A man who said he is caring for his parents also was excused.

Before the jury selection process started, defense and prosecution lawyers agreed that five of the 30 people called Wednesday would be released for obvious medical reasons and hardships.

Jury selection continues Thursday with the goal being 12 jurors and four alternates seated by Friday afternoon.


Load comments