Possible jurors with victim ties cut from jury hearing murder

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Four people who either knew slaying victim Justice Mitchell directly or indirectly were released Monday from serving on the jury that will decide whether to convict or acquit a man accused of murder in Mitchell’s killing.

Ernest L. Williams Jr., 19, of Topeka, is charged with first-degree murder of Mitchell during an inherently dangerous felony of distribution of marijuana and a second count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

Mitchell, 18, was fatally wounded during a botched drug sale by Mitchell to a second man on the night of June 26, 2017, in a parking lot at Church’s Chicken, 3001 S.W. 10th.

Of the four prospective jurors released from jury duty on Monday:

  • One woman said she knew Mitchell and had talked to him several times. “When this (Mitchell’s shooting) happened, it threw me for quite a loop,” the woman said.

  • A high school student called for duty said she had a lot of friends who were mutual friends with Mitchell.

  • A male prospective juror knew Mitchell and his family and lives on the same street as Mitchell. He said it would be a difficult jury to sit on.

  • A woman whose husband knew the victim’s father said she had formed opinions about the case, which weren’t disclosed in court. Eventually she said it “might be uncomfortable” to serve on the jury.

The majority of the 21 people on the first of two panels of prospective jurors said they had been crime victims, most of them victims of home and vehicle burglaries.

But one man said he had witnessed an armed robbery and aggravated assault about a month before Mitchell’s slaying. He ultimately was chosen as a witness.

A woman said she witnessed the fatal shooting of her son’s father, and she suffers PTSD as a result. She was excused from the Mitchell case jury.

Late on Monday, a jury of nine women and five men was selected and sworn in. Two will be alternate jurors.

On Tuesday, jurors will hear opening statements by the prosecution and defense, then witnesses will be called to testify.

According to testimony during an Oct. 4 hearing, Williams, 19, was seated in the passenger seat in a Dodge Durango with Mitchell when it was parked at the restaurant.

Lamero Dunstan, now 18, the alleged would-be buyer of marijuana from Mitchell, heard the click of a gun held by Williams, which had failed to fire, a detective testified.

Dunstan turned to fire his pistol at Williams, then fired two shots at Michell because he assumed Mitchell also had a gun, the detective said.

Dunstan is to be tried on May 14.