COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Opening arguments were held Monday afternoon in the trial of Quentin Smith following the completion of jury selection.
Smith is accused of killing two Westerville Police officers — Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering — last year. Smith is charged with two counts of aggravated murder and faces the death penalty.
In his opening statement to the jury, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien walked them through the broad strokes of what investigators and witnesses say happened that day.
O’Brien told the jury how a fellow officer found Joering at the scene.
“Shot right here, right between the eyes in the forehead,” said O’Brien. “Officer Joering had three gunshot wounds — one right between the eyes, another here in his shoulder, and one here,” he concluded, pointing to the inside of his wrist.
The prosecution played a number of 911 calls, including one where Smith’s wife claimed he had shot a police officer.
O’Brien told the jury the state would prove it was Smith’s intent to kill the officers, and that he even bragged about his skill with a gun while in jail.
Defense attorney Fredrick Benton told the jury that the day the officers were killed culminated in a moment of panic, chaos, and crisis.
He described the same events from a different perspective and with different intent. The different take on the same event echoes back to ground Benton laid earlier in the day during voir dire.
While the jury was still being selected, attorneys talked about how different people at the same event can have different recollections, and how to judge if someone is credible.
Several of the prospective jurors were asked questions about how they determine if someone is lying to them, how they judge credibility, and if they will have any problems coming to grips with being fair and impartial.
In a way to connect with jurors, Benton shared a story about his distaste for cottage cheese. He hated it as a child and when he tried it again as an adult, he still hated it.
“If someone were to ask me if I could be fair and impartial, I’d say, ‘Yeah I can be fair and impartial,’ but it’s about cottage cheese. ‘Well… well… I’ll try to be,’ but I already know that cottage cheese is not going to stand a chance with me,” said Benton.
He followed up this story with a question, driving home his point.
“Was there anything about this case that you’ve heard so far that would make this case your cottage cheese?”
For at least three potential jurors, time alone with their own thoughts was enough to get them to determine they could not sign their name to a sentence of death.
On initial questionnaires and at small group interviews last week, this was the focus as attorneys and the judge attempted to weed out potential jurors who had strong feelings about the death penalty that also could not set those feelings aside and apply the law as it is written.
All three jurors were removed from the pool Monday.
Others were eliminated for financial hardship reasons, and for reasons impacting the health of family members.
Ultimately, 52 jurors walked into the courtroom Monday morning, and nearly six hours later, 12 jurors and four alternates were chosen to hear the case.
Three of the 12 jurors are men, the remaining nine are women.
If the jury finds Smith guilty of aggravated murder with specific factors that would trigger capital punishment, they will ultimately decide his fate.
If they find him guilty of a lesser charge, sentencing will be in the hands of the judge. If they find him not guilty of the charge, he would be acquitted.
The Prosecution will call their first witness Tuesday morning.
The trial could take as long as two weeks.