Jurors admit being scared during trial

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 9, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; Tension and threats of violence in last week’s murder trial had courtroom officials worried and some jurors just plain scared.

An already emotional case intensified when box cutters and knives were found in the bathroom after the first day of the Greg Moffett trial for the killing of his girlfriend Tatanisha Thomas.

As the trial progressed and the audience grew to courtroom capacity, Adams County Circuit Court Judge Forrest A. Johnson issued several warnings to the crowd about outbursts and incidents in the hallway.

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At one point a man was removed from the balcony while the jury watched a gruesome video of the crime scene.

Though the jurors were kept away from the public for most of the trial, not all of them were oblivious to the tension.

&uot;Several of the ladies on the jury were afraid, including myself,&uot; juror Paulette Rhodes said. &uot;We had heard about the knives and box cutters, and apparently there were some threats made.&uot;

Rhodes said she felt the intimidation factor was a big part of the trial, but in the end did not affect the guilty verdict they returned.

&uot;(Moffett’s) people sat upstairs and just stared at us all day long,&uot; Rhodes said. &uot;People in the hallway made remarks. The closer it got to the verdict the stranger things got.&uot;

During the first two days of the three-day trial the jurors were allowed to walk down the courthouse hallway to the snack machine or to the bathrooms during breaks, but on the final day the judge asked them to stay in the jury room during all breaks.

Rhodes said the jury had been warned well before the last day though.

&uot;We’d been told to stay together and not to go off by ourselves,&uot; she said. &uot;We were told to go in pairs.&uot;

Juror Diane Holland said she was oblivious to the situation until other jurors shared their fears.

&uot;I thought maybe it was just family on family rather than against the jury,&uot; Holland said. &uot;In my mind I thought his family was going to get after her family.&uot;

After being warned by courtroom officials to be aware of her surroundings Holland said she did become concerned for her own safety.

&uot;I’d zigzag as I came home and drive around town for awhile,&uot; she said. &uot;And yesterday (the Monday after the trial) I wore a shirt to Wal-Mart that I’d worn in the jury box and I thought I might get noticed.&uot;

Another juror who did not want to be named said she was petrified when she walked outside the courtroom and asked for escorts to her vehicle after court ended each night.

Despite their fears, all three women said they thought the courthouse officials had done all they could to provide proper security.

The Adams County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for providing security in the courtroom, and a metal detector was used at the door of the courtroom.

Sheriff Ronny Brown said he was often concerned about safety during the Moffett trial and steadily increased the number of officers in the courtroom as the trial progressed to counter any problems.

When the verdict was read more than five ACSO employees stood near Moffett and other law enforcement officers were scattered around the courtroom, including the sheriff and the police chief.

Brown said all he can do right now is provide officer presence but said he would like to see more overall security.

&uot;We are trying to get it changed to fix the courthouse so it will be more secure,&uot; Brown said.

There are not metal detectors at the entrances to the courthouse, only to the courtroom.

Brown said another metal detector and an X-ray machine are on the way from a federal courthouse in Vicksburg that no longer uses them but they will not be in use at the Nathan Hogan murder trial scheduled to start Monday. Brown said he plans to ask the board of supervisors for financial assistance to hire personnel to run the new equipment.

Rhodes said she would like to see some sort of security at the doors of the courthouse to prevent things like knives from making it to the bathroom, but beyond that she wasn’t sure if there was a solution.

&uot;When you are dealing with the type of people that don’t give a second thought to trying to scare you or intimidate you by making cursing remarks, I don’t know that they can do anything.&uot;

Juror Heather Stroud said she thought the officers and courtroom officials did all they could.

&uot;They did very well as far as security,&uot; Stroud said. &uot;I didn’t feel threatened.&uot;

Johnson said predicting the trials that might present problems is hard to do, but said the sheriff’s office has always provided whatever security was needed.

&uot;You never know the ones to watch out for,&uot; he said. &uot;I was a little bit concerned about some of the things that apparently took place during the trial.

&uot;With trials like this you tend to have a lot of people in there and it can be difficult to deal with. I tried my best to keep it under control.&uot;

Moffett was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Jury selection in the Hogan trial is scheduled to start Monday. Hogan is charged with the murder of Natchez native John Vasser.