Is there merit in having the jury in the involuntary manslaughter trial involving the death of a Lansdowne infant visit the scene of the crash?
That’s a question Circuit Court Judge Douglas L. Fleming Jr. will answer later this week.
County prosecutors want to schedule that a jury field trip to the intersection of Riverside Parkway and Coton Manor Drive as part of the trial, now scheduled for October. John Miller’s defense attorneys say the extraordinary accommodation is unnecessary.
The two parties argued their positions in Circuit Court this morning after extensive questioning of the Sheriff’s Office lead investigator in the case.
Investigators say, on Aug. 31, 2016, Miller drove through the intersection on Riverside Parkway and Coton Manor Drive in Lansdowne, crashing into Mindy Schulz as she was pushing her infant son, Tristan, in a stroller through the crosswalk. The baby was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after. Mindy Schulz was injured and released from the hospital after three days of treatment.
Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Sean Morgan told Fleming it would be important for jurors to see the vantage points of the 14 eyewitnesses who are expected to testify in the case. “We can’t bring that evidence into the courtroom,” he said. If the jury visited the site, the formal and informal memorials to Tristan would be temporarily be removed or covered.
Steven T. Webster, representing Miller, argued that hundreds of photos and other exhibits would provide enough information to help the jurors understand the scene and the witnesses’ perspectives, and that the logistics of organizing such a trip without introducing elements of prejudice would be challenging.
“This is not a controlled environment in which to hold a jury trial,” he said.
Fleming said he would issue a letter ruling in the next day or two.
The judge did rule on two other motions.
He agreed to allow the jurors to see Miller’s 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which remains in the Sheriff’s Office impound lot, during the trial.
He also agreed to allow Tristan’s parents, Rod and Mindy Schulz, to be present in the courtroom during the trial.
Webster had objected, saying it was a “virtual certainty” that their outbursts or other reactions would unduly affect jurors.
“It is hard to imagine a more difficult and emotionally charged proceeding for parents to endure than the trial involving the death of their child,” he wrote in a filing on the motion. “And it is unreasonable to expect that the parents will be able to conceal their emotions as testimony is advanced and exhibits displayed.”
Fleming said the Schulz would be allowed to watch the proceedings and would be advised to refrain from impermissible conduct.