FLORENCE, S.C. (WMBF) - The first phase of jury selection began Monday for the man accused of killing two women at a Conway bank in 2017.
Court documents reveal 2,000 possible jurors received a standard jury questionnaire in May. Jurors were randomly drawn from a district-wide pool, documents show.
Four groups of 80 possible jurors arrived Monday at the federal courthouse in Florence. The panels arrived every two hours, and each went through the same process. After a numerical roll call and oath, an introductory video made by the presiding judge over the case, U.S. District Judge Bryan Harwell, was played.
Harwell emphasized the importance of being part of a jury and called it a “rare privilege” in the video. He then introduced the case to the prospective jurors.
He began by saying it’s a high-profile case that some may know about already. Harwell made a point to say the accused killer, Brandon Council, is innocent until proven guilty by the court. Council has pleaded not guilty.
Harwell emphasized the indictments against Council are only accusations. He then went over the charges and capital offenses against him, including bank robbery resulting in death.
Harwell went into great detail to discuss a verdict must be found by proving it beyond reasonable doubt. He described the details and importance of the first and second phases of the trial.
Harwell said the government is seeking the death penalty if Council is found guilty. He said the 12-member jury must decide if Council is eligible for the death penalty based on evidence given at trial and aggravated factors in the crimes.
Like the prosecution, Harwell said Council and the defense may present mitigating factors to avoid the death penalty, such as Council’s childhood and other circumstances.
After the video, the jurors completed a supplemental questionnaire to help narrow the pool and were dismissed.
Harwell informed the jurors from that point until official dismissal, they were not to discuss the case with anyone, or they could be held in contempt of court. Potential jurors were also instructed to avoid the news and to not conduct independent research on the case from that point forward.
When it comes to jury selection, Harwell said the selected jurors will receive detailed instructions from him prior to the beginning of the trial. Twelve jurors will be selected with four alternates. If a potential juror has seen case publicity it will not automatically dismiss them, Harwell said, as long as he or she can still be fair and impartial.
Judge Harwell said jurors that reach the next round will be called back Monday, Sept. 9, with a possible extra day of selection on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
The trial will begin mid-September., Harwell said. He explained he anticipates the trial to last at least a few weeks, possibly in to mid-November. He said he plans to be in court Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the first week of trial. After that, he plans to be in court only Monday through Thursday, at the same time.
Harwell said he’s not planning to sequester jurors, but a stipend will be available for jurors who live outside of Florence to stay inside the city during the trial days.