Stevens murder trial begins today

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 10, 2010

VIDALIA — The murder trial of Michael Kelly Stevens begins today.

Jury selection for the first-degree murder trial was Monday, lasting six hours before 12 jurors and two alternates were selected.

The jury is composed of three black women, four white men, one black man and four white women. The alternates are a black woman and a black man.

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Stevens stands accused in the slaying of 52-year-old Vidalia resident Mike Welch, who was found dead with his throat cut in his Myrtle Street residence Oct. 4, 2009.

Seventh Judicial District District Attorney Brad Burget said he believes Concordia Parish has not prosecuted a first-degree murder case since the late 1970s.

When asked by a potential juror — who was later excused — why the matter was not a death penalty case, Burget said he could not discuss the decision not to pursue the death penalty without discussing the details of the case with the then-potential jurors.

Burget also reminded potential jurors that the state has the responsibility of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

While some may be tempted to hold the state to a higher standard — “beyond the shadow of a doubt,” or “zero doubt” — Burget said the burden of the law is proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on evidence and common sense.

“There is no perfect case,” he said. “I am not going to present a video of the crime. That’s rare.”

Defense attorney Madaline Gibbs asked the potential jurors if they knew anyone whose demeanors changed when they used alcohol or drugs.

She also asked if they believed the defendant had to prove his innocence, or if the jurors believed that just because a person was arrested they must be guilty.

Likewise, she asked if anyone had read or heard about the case in the local news media.

“The last thing we want is for this thing to be tried in the papers,” she said.

Gibbs also asked the potential jurors if they would be offended by graphic crime scene pictures to the point it would render them biased.

“Do you think if a crime is a horrible, bloody crime, that will affect your judgment?” she aside.

Before asking the potential jurors if they had any problem giving a man a life sentence, Burget said if the jury convicts Stevens of first-degree or second-degree murder, he will receive a mandatory life sentence.

“If convicted, he will spend the rest of his days in the penitentiary unless the governor pardons him,” Burget said.

The district attorney also questioned the jurors about their opinions about defendants who exercised their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

“Would you hold it against him if he decided not to testify?” Burget said. “I think we would all be curious as to what he would say, but that’s not the law. The law says he doesn’t have to testify.”

Burget said he believes the prosecution — which has subpoenaed 31 witnesses —will last through Thursday.

Once the prosecution rests, the defense can take up the case.