T-shirts cause assault trial delay
T-shirts worn Monday by supporters of a teen who reportedly suffered brain damage in an attack at a Laurel County high school scuttled the trial of the 17-year-old girl charged with assault in the case.
Defense attorneys for Lea Dawn Sizemore asked Circuit Judge Gregory A. Lay to declare a mistrial because of the risk that potential jurors saw the T-shirts and were swayed against Sizemore.
"This was something that we felt that we had to move for a mistrial because had the jurors seen this . . . it could have the effect of tainting this jury by creating a bias," said Sandra J. Reeves, an attorney who represents Sizemore with attorney B.J. Foley.
Lay declared a mistrial and set a new trial date in August.
Sizemore is accused of attacking Martina McClure in a bathroom at South Laurel High School in September 2016 when Sizemore was 16 and the victim was 17. Sizemore is charged with hitting McClure in the head with a cell phone.
McClure suffered damage to her brain, which persists, and developed a seizure disorder, said Beverly Chandler, a cousin.
McClure was an honors student before the attack but had to relearn the alphabet after, and has gone through extensive rehabilitation, Chandler said.
"It has really changed her life," Chandler said.
Family members have described the attack as an example of school bullying.
Chandler said Sizemore had threatened McClure on social media before the assault.
McClure reported the threat to an administrator, who talked to Sizemore but allowed her to stay at school, Chandler said.
McClure's family has alleged in a civil lawsuit that school employees did not handle the situation properly, but the employees believe they acted appropriately, said Larry Bryson, attorney for the school board.
Foley said Sizemore vehemently denies the allegations against her.
Foley said that he did not want to discuss details, but that Sizemore "is looking forward to finally having her day in court and presenting the true facts about the fight between two minor females and the alleged injuries. "
Sizemore is being tried as an adult, even though she was a minor at the time of the alleged assault, in part because of the use of the cell phone as a weapon.
She is charged with first-degree assault, which is punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison; disorderly conduct; and criminal mischief for allegedly breaking a necklace McClure was wearing.
Lay swore in a pool of prospective jurors for the case Monday morning, then gave them a short break before prosecution and defense attorneys were to start questioning them on their knowledge of the case and other matters.
The hallway outside the courtroom was crowded with spectators, including supporters of McClure. Some were wearing T-shirts calling for justice for her.
The jurors walked through the crowd on the way to the bathroom. After they returned, Commonwealth's Attorney Jackie Steele stepped outside the courtroom to tell spectators they could come in, and saw several people with the shirts.
Steele and defense attorneys had not seen the shirts earlier.
Steele said it was not clear how many prospective jurors saw the shirts, but he had a duty to notify defense attorneys and the judge about the potential problem.
"Everyone wants to get this matter resolved, but at the same time I have a duty to make sure it's done fair to both the commonwealth and the defendant," Steele said.