It was slow going Wednesday in Muscogee Superior Court as attorneys readying for an armed robbery and murder trial sifted through a pool of 70 potential jurors.
By 6 p.m., they still had not struck a jury of 12 plus two alternates for the trial of Michael Jerome “Big Smoove” Johnson — charged in 2011 robbery and slaying of jewelry store manager Steve Toms — and Dimitrius Morris “Slim Deezy” Gordon, who with Johnson faces charges in two other armed robberies.
Attorneys are to return to Judge William Rumer’s court at 8:30 a.m. today to continue eliminating jurors from the pool until they have the requisite number of 12 plus two alternates. They hope to finish that this morning and then start their opening statements.
On Wednesday they were questioning jurors individually, a lengthy and sometimes tedious process. Among the questions prospective jurors were asked:
Whether they or a relative had been arrested for a crime or been a crime victim.
Whether they knew any witnesses in the case, including law enforcement.
Whether they knew other jurors in the pool, and if so, whether that relationship could affect their judgment.
Whether they’d been witnesses in other criminal cases.
Whether they had personal or business plans that would impede their service in the coming weeks.
Whether they’d done business at any of the stores the defendants allegedly robbed.
The latter inquiry covered a lot of ground, as Johnson and Gordon are accused of acting in concert with other suspects to commit five armed robberies in 2011 and 2012, including two at busy grocery stores.
The crime-victim question sometimes yielded curious anecdotes. Asked about his experience, one man told the court three juveniles stole his pickup truck twice in one day, just a week after he and nearby residents formed a Neighborhood Watch.
He said the minors soon abandoned his truck the first time it was stolen, and police returned it in four hours. Then the same kids stole it again eight hours later, and he got it back the next day, he said.
Because prosecutors allege Johnson and Gordon used money from the robberies to finance a music production company named RBN, and recorded two rap videos in which they allegedly brandished guns used in robberies, some potential jurors were asked what they thought of rap music.
“I just don’t think it’s real music — just my personal opinion,” said one man.
Another was asked whether he thought rap differed from other music genres.
“Yeah, it’s a lot different — too much profanity,” he answered.
Though attorneys finished questioning the pool Wednesday, they still have to “strike” or eliminate those people they don’t want to serve on the trial jury.
Only Johnson faces charges in the Nov. 15, 2011, robbery of the Gold & Silver Trading Center that Toms managed. Toms, 63, was found shot to death in the 3717 Gentian Blvd. jewelry store the following day. In that case Johnson faces two counts of felony murder and one each of armed robbery, aggravated assault, and using a firearm to commit a crime.
Both Johnson and Gordon are charged in the April 11, 2012, robbery of the Winn Dixie store at 5750 Milgen Road. In this case, Johnson and Gordon face three counts of armed robbery, two of aggravated assault and one of kidnapping.
The pair together are charged also in the May 5, 2012, robbery of the Diamond Exchange, 4227 Victory Drive, for which they face two counts of armed robbery and one each of aggravated assault, kidnapping and using a gun to commit a crime.
Four co-defendants in the alleged armed robbery ring have pleaded guilty.