Jury selection to begin for man accused of killing CMPD officers

Jury selection to begin for man accused of killing CMPD officers

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by DIANA RUGG / NewsChannel 36
E-mail Diana: Diana.Rugg@WCNC.com

Bio | Email | Follow: @DianaRuggwcnc

WCNC.com

Posted on August 23, 2010 at 7:08 AM

Updated Monday, Aug 23 at 10:43 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jury selection begins Monday morning for the man accused of gunning down two Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers at the Timber Ridge apartments in 2007.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Demeatrius Montgomery, who is charged with the murders of officers Sean Clark and Jeff Shelton.

Before the trial even begins, issues of competency and possible destruction of evidence have come up.

A judge ruled Montgomery competent to stand trial in an earlier hearing, but his defense attorneys, Bruce Lee of Greensboro and Duane Bryant of High Point, say Montgomery has not spoken to them -- making it difficult for them to assist in his defense. 

Charlotte defense attorney James Cooney, who is not involved in the case, says Montgomery's attorneys may use his behavior to bring up the competency issue again. Cooney expects more debate about Montgomery's mental state.

"If he chose not to cooperate, he's out of luck," said Cooney.  "If they present evidence that he's too mentally ill to cooperate, it's a whole other story."

Also sure to come up in the early stages of the trial is a motion filed by Lee and Bryant on Friday, alleging that a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detective investigating the case destroyed some of his notes.  North Carolina law says all evidence in a case, including detectives' notes, must be turned over to defense counsel to provide for a fair defense. 

In the filing, obtained by NewsChannel 36's news partners at the Charlotte Observer, says Det. Arvin Fant "destroyed portions of his file and has made misrepresentations concerning the same."  Det. Fant had no comment when reached Friday by the Observer.  The filing says he has been reassigned to another department in CMPD, but doesn't say why.
 
The filing asks for the charges against Montgomery to be dismissed, and sanctions that would prevent the case from going forward as a death penalty case.  It also asks for an investigation into the alleged destruction of Det. Fant's notes.
 
Cooney said Sunday it is unlikely the murder charges would be dismissed against Montgomery because of the missing notes, but a judge could remove the death penalty as an option during sentencing.
 
"It certainly gives something for the defense to talk about, because the officer was under an obligation of North Carolina law to produce everything," said Cooney.  "He's under a constitutional obligation to produce exculpatory evidence, or evidence that might show Mr. Montgomery didn't do it.  They're contending he had that evidence and destroyed it."
 
Aside from legal issues, Cooney also said the trial will be an emotional one.  Juries can be sympathetic about public servants who lose their lives in the line of duty.
 
"There really is this notion of the thin blue line," said Cooney.  "And that's now been breached, and that makes these cases extraordinarily emotional."  Cooney said the courtroom will be full of police officers, and possibly the slain officers' families.  "The jury will constantly be reminded that it was police officers that were killed."
 
Jury selection is expected to take three to four weeks, with the presentation of evidence taking roughly two weeks after that.

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