Bart Johnson’s trial to begin Thursday

Published 6:44 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2011

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – The capital murder trial of a Kimberly man accused of shooting and killing a Pelham police officer is scheduled to begin sometime Thursday.

Opening arguments in retired Shelby County Circuit Judge Al Crowson’s courtroom are expected after 12 jurors and three alternates are seated.

Jury selection began Monday.

Bart Johnson faces two counts of capital murder, one for intentionally killing an on-duty police officer and another for intentionally causing death by shooting from an occupied vehicle.

Johnson has pleaded not guilty to both charges by reason of mental disease or defect.

Johnson’s charges came after Pelham police officer Philip Davis was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Interstate 65 in December 2009.

Of the 127 potential jurors who reported for service, 104 remained after Wednesday’s individual questioning.

Sixty-two jurors were questioned Wednesday, with 12 being excused.

One was man was struck with cause without ever being questioned, because he is related to a law enforcement officer who was a first responder to the scene of Davis’ shooting.

Two men were dismissed after saying several times that they could not consider the death penalty if Johnson is convicted. “I don’t think it’s my responsibility to take someone else’s life,” one man said, later adding, “thou shall not kill.” Said the other man: “I can’t consider the death penalty.”

Another man was dismissed after saying he couldn’t put aside preconceived opinions on the case and weigh fairly only the evidence presented in court. He said basic facts of the case, taken from newspaper accounts, were discussed in his Sunday school class, which he said prayed for the victim’s family. The man said he gave money to a fundraiser for the slain officer’s family.

A woman and a man were dismissed after saying they had fixed opinions on the case based on facts they read in the newspaper and saw on TV.

A Pelham resident whose wife is an attorney was dismissed in part because he said several times that he was “85 percent certain” Johnson is guilty. He indicated he might have trouble weighing fairly the facts presented in court.

A woman was dismissed after saying she didn’t think she could weigh evidence fairly. The woman attends a Pelham church with at least two Pelham police officers, though she said she does not know them personally. The woman said she donated money to the slain officer’s family. She said, upon questioning by the defense, that she didn’t think she should sit on the jury.

One woman was excused after the prosecution and the defense decided she couldn’t be impartial. The woman said she had already formed an opinion but, when asked what that opinion was, couldn’t say. Under questioning by the defense, she eventually offered that Johnson “possibly” was guilty, based on what she had read and heard.

The brother-in-law of a Pelham police officer was excused after saying, “That could have been my brother-in-law in officer Davis’ spot” and adding that there was a “50-50” percent chance he could be impartial.

A woman who battles depression and is on medication was excused after saying that viewing graphic courtroom photos and a video of the incident would be difficult on her medical condition.

Another woman was excused due to a possible time conflict. A family member is scheduled to have heart surgery within the next couple weeks.