HOLBROOK — Jury selection started Tuesday for the kidnapping and sexual abuse trial of Taylor resident Joey Fish. Fish was indicted by a Navajo County Grand Jury on November 28, 2017, on two counts of kidnapping and two counts of sexual abuse, all concerning an incident in the boy’s locker room at Snowflake High School on November 20, 2017.
The jury trial was supposed to have started last month, but the court ran out of jurors — only 25 of 200 summoned showed up, according to court records.
This time around, there was a better response as around 75 potential jurors filled the courtroom of Judge Dale Nielson on Tuesday and the court began the process of jury selection.
The objective in jury selection is to impanel a jury of the defendant’s peers who can fairly and impartially hear the case and decide which version of the facts they believe — there is usually more than one version to decide on.
The potential jurors began arriving at the court before nine o’clock and the process started about one and a half hours later.
The judge announced the four charges against Fish and noted that the defendant has pled not guilty. He then administered an oath to the jurors: they rose and swore that each would answer the upcoming questions truthfully.
Next were the attorneys.
Prosecuting attorney for Navajo County, Robert Edwards, introduced himself and identified his boss, County Attorney Brad Carlyon. Roberts, tall and slender was dressed elegantly in a black suit and tie.
Defense counsel from Flagstaff, Bruce Griffen also dressed in a black pin-striped suit and tie, introduced himself and his client. Fish, the 19 year-old defendant, is a large man, tall and musclebound. He was well-groomed in a white shirt and tie.
It’s important for the potential jurors to understand the nature of the dispute they will be called upon to decide, so the rules of court allow each side to make what is called a “mini opening statement” to the whole crowd even before the final jury is selected.
The prosecutor went first. He told the group that the school offered a weight lifting class which was popular among the school’s football players, like Fish. Other students attended as well. Edwards said that in the locker room in between sessions, Fish pinned down one of the younger students, a 16 year-old individual smaller than Fish and grabbed the student’s genitals both over and under the clothing.
Technically, if someone improperly restrains another person, it is considered a type of kidnapping. Sexual abuse involves sexually touching another without that person’s consent.
Edwards went on to say that one of the school coaches heard the commotion and broke up the incident. But when the coach left, said Edwards, Fish did it again, resulting in double the number of charges.
Defense counsel said that there is little dispute about the acts — he admitted that Fish grabbed the student’s genitals both over and under the clothing. The crux of this case involves the motive Fish had for doing so, Griffen said.
There are various types of kidnapping prohibited by Arizona law. The type of kidnapping done “to inflict a sexual offense” is as serious as it gets, a Class 2 felony, and that is exactly what Fish is charged with. It appeared the defense will try to characterize what happened there as typical locker room antics, horseplay, and that Fish had no sexual motive.
The prosecutors must prove every element of each charge beyond a reasonable doubt. That means they must prove that not only did Fish restrain someone, but did it “with the intent to inflict a sexual offense.” It is unknown how the state intends to do that; the jury is allowed to make reasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence or a defendant’s statements before, during or after the act. Its permissible to point to the demeanor of the defendant at the time, any statements made during or after the act.
By noon of the first day, the jury process had just started. It is unknown how long selection will take or in fact, the length of the trial.
At the close of the trial, however, when everybody is done testifying and the parties have rested their cases, the jury will be instructed as to the laws they must apply. They are not only instructed about the charges actually filed against Fish, but could be instructed about “lesser included offenses,” whereby the jury could convict Fish of less-serious crimes than the ones he is charged with.
For example, if the jury has a reasonable doubt about the sexual intent, the seriousness of the kidnapping charge goes way down and it’s conceivable that Fish could be convicted of a misdemeanor simple assault charge. Finally, if the state does not produce enough evidence to support any charge beyond a reasonable doubt, Fish could be acquitted.
The jury will decide.