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Thousands Summoned To Courthouse In Kaufman Co. Death Penalty Case

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KAUFMAN COUNTY (CBS 11 NEWS) -   It looked like a crowd entering a football or baseball game.

Instead, the people who lined up at the Rockwall County courthouse Friday are among the three thousand residents summoned here as part of the Eric Williams death penalty case.

Those who came filled out questionnaires as the judge and attorneys started the process of eliminating people from sitting on a jury.

Non-Rockwall County residents are disqualified from sitting on the jury, and anyone age 70 or over is exempt, but can decide to continue in the process.

The trial is scheduled to begin October 20th, and Barry Sorrels, a Dallas trial attorney credits Dallas County Judge Michael Snipes who’s handling the case, with starting the process early.

Sorrels says, “I think it’s a smart decision on his part to start in March in a case of this nature, with this much publicity, and to sit a qualified jury for an October trial. I think it makes sense.”

The judge moved the case to Rockwall County after Williams, a former Kaufman County Justice of the Peace, feared he wouldn’t get a fair trial in Kaufman County.

Williams and his wife Kim, who’s case has not been moved out of Kaufman County, are accused of killing former District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia, and his former top assistant Mark Hasse last year.

The judge has said he hopes attorneys will begin interviewing potential individual jurors starting in early May, and have a jury seated by mid-August.

Sorrels says it takes time to find 12 qualified jurors, especially in death penalty cases. “Both sides want someone who will make a decision based upon the evidence, not preconceived fixed ideas about how they feel about capital murder cases.”

He says Judge Snipes, “Couldn’t be a better a judge to make sure both sides get a fair trial.”

Experts say the process of summoning a large number of people is the same for all death penalty cases.

While a lot of people showed up in Rockwall County Friday, experts we spoke with say a smaller percentage of people in larger counties who are summoned in death penalty cases typically shows up to court.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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