Caledonia County deputy sheriff Tina Tuite explains to Holly Hall of St. Johnsbury that she has been summoned to report for jury duty at the Caledonia County courthouse. Hall was one of 45 people summoned by the sheriff to report for jury duty after it appeared there would not be enough jury members to choose from.
ST. JOHNSBURY -- Caledonia County Sheriff Michael Bergeron and three deputies were sent from the Caledonia District Court by Judge Harold Eaton Jr. Wednesday morning with orders to summon potential jurors to the courthouse for jury duty.
Taking up position on the sidewalk of the St. Johnsbury post office, in the doorway of the Price Chopper supermarket on Memorial Drive, and in the entrance to the Green Mountain Mall in St. Johnsbury Center, Bergeron and his uniformed deputies stopped passers-by and asked them if they lived in Caledonia County.
If someone said he or she resided in the county, then, after determining the person was of legal age, the sheriffs issued a summons, ordering the person to report to the Caledonia County courthouse on Main Street in St. Johnsbury immediately to be available for jury duty.
During three trips into the St. Johnsbury community, 25 potential jurors were rounded up during the first round, eight more jurors were summoned during a second trip and 12 more were sent to the courthouse for jury duty during the third recruitment.
The roundup of average citizens by uniformed deputies was the result of a potential inability to seat a jury in the trial of Aldolph Charron, 65, of St. Johnsbury, who is charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child.
According to the affidavit of St. Johnsbury police officer Mark Bickford, on Jan. 28, 2006, Bickford met with the mother of a 7-year-old girl who told her mother that Charron had touched her inappropriately when she was visiting him at his home in Dec. 10, 2005, and during a second visit to his home on Jan. 16, 2006.
The child went to her mother to report the alleged sexual molestation. Charron, when interviewed by Bickford, told the officer the child was sitting next to him in a big chair and that the child kept grabbing his hand and moving it around on different spots on her body.
He told the officer he used to sleep in the same bed with the child because she got scared. He said he could not recall touching her, but if he did, it was only on the outside of her clothing and it was due to her moving her hand around.
If convicted of the two felonies, Charron could face a prison sentence of one year to a maximum of 15 years on each of the felony charges, and a maximum fine of $5,000 on each count.
Charron was arraigned in June 2006 and has been free on conditions of release ever since as the criminal case against him works its way through the courts. His defense attorney is David Sleigh and the case against him is being brought by Deputy Caledonia County State's Attorney Kyle Sipples.
Wednesday morning, 34 potential jurors were at the courthouse available to be drawn for Charron's jury. Twelve jurors are needed to hear the case and the custom is to seat two alternate jurors in addition to the 12, in case one or two of the jurors has to be excused for illness, emergency, or some other cause.
When potential jurors are notified they may be drawn for jury duty, they are asked to complete a confidential questionnaire which asks the juror if she or he can hear a case involving a sex crime free of bias. If a juror indicates on the questionnaire that the juror could not be impartial in a case involving a sex crime, then the juror is excused from jury duty.
In the case of the 34 jurors, 14 indicated they could not hear a sex case impartially. With those 14 excused, the court was left with 20 potential jurors. The defense attorney and the prosecutor may question each of the remaining jurors and ask them a number of questions regarding their personal history and their view of the case.
Each side may challenge jurors "for cause," meaning the defense or prosecution has a good cause to challenge a juror. There is no limit to how many challenges "for cause" each side may make.
In addition to challenges "for cause," each side is allowed seven peremptory challenges, meaning the defense and the prosecution have the ability to remove a juror without offering a reason for doing so.
Judge Eaton looked at the potential challenges to the 20 available potential jurors and decided there was a good chance less than the needed 12 jurors would remain following challenges.
After meeting with both parties, the judge issued a jury summons and sent the sheriff's department out to round up more people.
According to Sheriff Bergeron, his department found potential jurors from Sutton, Peacham, Lyndon, St. Johnsbury and many other Caledonia County towns. Bergeron said "99.9 percent were just excellent" about being summoned on a sidewalk and ordered to report to the courthouse immediately.
"They were great. We certainly appreciate that," Bergeron said, adding, "We hope it won't happen again."
Defense attorney Sleigh filed a motion to quash the impromptu jury pool, saying the proper way to proceed would be to simply postpone the jury draw and then draw from an all new jury pool during the next round of jury draws. Sleigh was not sure the new jurors were unbiased and he had questions regarding the method used by deputies to pick jurors. He also questioned whether picking jurors in front of the St. Johnsbury post office could provide geographic representation.
Eaton noted the Charron case is 574 days old and is one of the oldest cases on the District Court docket. He rejected Sleigh's objections and told the parties the jury draw would begin.
The jury draw took until 4 p.m., but a jury of 12 was finally selected and Adolph Charron's case will soon go to trial.