- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

MATHEWS, Va. (AP) — With a high-profile murder trial scheduled to start next month, the available jury pool in this rural community on Chesapeake Bay is being tested.

Notices have been sent to 125 persons, summoning them as potential jurors in the trial of Benjamin Fawley, charged in the slaying of 17-year-old Taylor Marie Behl last fall. That number represents half of the entire number of residents summoned in the county each year to hear evidence in all of its felony trials.

Twelve jurors and three or four alternates will be selected for the trial, scheduled to start Aug. 17.

Already, a dozen or so residents older than 70 — who are entitled to an automatic exemption — have said they do not wish to serve, Mathews County Clerk Eugene Callis said. Several other prospects have been excused because they have documented proof of existing plans for vacation.

Mathews has a population of about 9,200, according to U.S. Census figures.

Mr. Fawley, 38, is charged with murder in the Sept. 6 death of Miss Behl, a Virginia Commonwealth University freshman from Vienna, Va. Her remains were found off a dirt road near a beach in Mathews, about 75 miles east of Richmond.

An autopsy did not determine the cause of death.

In addition to the shallow jury pool, lawyers said it is likely most residents have heard about the case and many also could have social relationships with lawyers and witnesses through church, schools or jobs.

Citing extensive news coverage and the demographics of the county, defense attorneys William E. Johnson and Christopher J. Collins had wanted potential jurors to fill out a form that would show how much they knew about the case and what, if any, relationships they have with trial participants.

At a hearing Wednesday, Circuit Judge William H. Shaw III said a questionnaire could cause more problems and draw more attention to the selection of a panel than not having a form.

While he denied the motion, the judge suggested he would give attorneys latitude to ask similar questions when jurors are summoned.

Judge Shaw also denied a defense motion to restrict prosecutors from introducing evidence of Mr. Fawley’s so-called prior bad acts — two assault convictions involving previous girlfriends and a pending possession of child pornography charge against him in Richmond.

The next hearing in the case is set for July 26.

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