St. Louis Circuit Court summons 3,400 people to try to get a death-qualified jury in what has become a potential COVID-19 super spreader event.
(St. Louis City) -- On April 21, the Missouri Supreme Court has agreed to hear a motion for a continuance in the case of Eric Lawson, who is facing a death sentence in St. Louis City. Lawson is facing the death penalty for the first-degree murder of Breiana Ray, Gwendolyn Ray, and Aiden Lawson in 2012. Circuit Court Judge Micheal Noble is determined to move forward with the trial despite concerns and objections made by attorneys over positive COVID-19 cases among jurors. It is important to note that this is the second time the Attorney General’s Office has attempted to impanel a death-qualified jury in this case. In November 2019, hundreds were summoned to the circuit court, but they could not find enough people without hardship conflicts who would be able to impose death as punishment for first-degree murder. Last week the processes started again, with over 3,400 people receiving a summons for this capital case.
Defense attorneys in the Lawson case are asking the Missouri Supreme Court for a two-week continuance. At least two COVID-19 positive individuals have appeared in person for jury service and participated in the jury selection process, coming in contact with other prospective jurors, attorneys, and courthouse staff integral to the functioning of this trial. Last Friday, the court closed for a few hours for sanitation purposes, and activities resumed later the same day. On Monday, another prospective juror tested positive, and the court dismissed eight people. On Wednesday, the defense filed an amended motion for a continuance based upon the new circumstances of COVID-19 positive cases present at the ongoing trial. Judge Noble denied the motion the same day. According to the brief, Judge Noble lacked the authority to deny the continuance. The Operational Directives and Gateway criteria for resuming state activity are put in place by the Missouri Supreme Court. These operational directives clearly state that upon exposure, there should be a mandatory 14 day shut down and a return to phase one of operation. The defense is asking to continue the trial for two weeks to ensure quarantine procedures are followed for those exposed and to correct procedures that allowed COVID-19 positive individuals into the Court building in the first place. Response from the Attorney General’s Office is due at 9:00 on Friday April 23rd. Opening arguments are scheduled for April 26, 2021.
If this trial is allowed to proceed, it shows that the St. Louis City Circuit Court, and the Attorney General’s Office, are more concerned about pursuing death than the safety of the community, including thousands of potential jurors who have been asked to participate in this event. “In the meantime, Eric Lawson has spent over nine years in the St. Louis City Justice Center. The same place where four uprisings have occurred in attempts to bring attention to the poor conditions and inhumane treatment - such as the justice system’s response to COVID-19,” said Elyse Max, Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Executive Director.