BISBEE — The long-awaited trial of a Hereford man charged with first degree murder and who has been in jail for three years began Tuesday with jury-selection. But even before potential jurors entered the courtroom to be questioned, there were arguments about in-person attendance of witnesses and media at the proceeding because of COVID-19.
The attorney representing defendant Roger Delane Wilson argued that witnesses and others should be allowed to attend the trial in person, despite a recent order issued by the Arizona Supreme Court regarding limiting the number of people at court proceedings because of the pandemic.
Defense attorney Chris Kimminau voiced concerns that witnesses could listen to the trial on a phone line that’s been set up in the courtroom to provide media and select others to access to proceedings, and that by listening, their testimony could be tainted or compromised.
The telephone number for courtroom access is normally used by reporters since they’re not permitted in the courtroom because of the virus. Lawyers also use the line. Tuesday morning, Cochise County Superior Judge Timothy Dickerson, who is presiding over the Wilson case, asked three reporters who were listening to jury selection, and one attorney, to be sworn in. The judge wanted to make sure under oath that each of the reporters would be listening to the trial alone, and they would not give out the courtroom-access phone number to the public.
The unusual circumstance is the latest chapter in a case that has been fraught with twists and turns because of Wilson’s mental health issues and his contentions with every one of the attorneys and others who have been involved in his case.
Kimminau is Wilson’s eighth lawyer and Wilson wanted to replace him in early August. But Dickerson, who did not want to delay the trial further, ruled against the defendant’s request. Wilson also has been known to act out in court, interrupt his attorneys and the judge. He has been removed from hearings in the past or ordered to remain quiet.
Wilson is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of Jose Daniel Arvizu in June 2017. The incident occurred near Wilson’s mother’s house outside Sierra Vista, and Wilson has maintained he shot Arvizu in self-defense.
The more significant setbacks in the case have included Wilson either threatening, attacking or refusing to work with his lawyers. Also, Wilson has undergone at least two mental health evaluations and he spent time at a mental health restoration facility after the first judge in the case ordered him there.
That jurist, Cochise County Superior Judge James Conlogue, removed himself from the proceedings after Wilson threatened to kill him. Wilson also leveled a death threat against Lori Zucco, the prosecutor trying the case.
Last month, Kimminau was unsuccessful in having Wilson declared incompetent even though a psychiatrist from the University of Arizona had recommended doing so. But another psychiatrist who had worked with Wilson at the mental health restoration facility, opined that Wilson was capable of focusing if enough time was spent with him. Dickerson agreed with that assessment.
As of press time, the attorneys trying the case had not yet picked a 12-member jury. Wilson’s trial is expected to last three weeks.