A panel of potential jurors spent Tuesday in Barton County District Court but, by the end of the day, everyone was sent home.
Everyone had been waiting since 3 p.m. when they expected a jury would be selected. Instead, around 3:50 p.m., District Judge Scott McPherson walked into the room and delivered the news.
“Ladies and gentlemen, things happen,” McPherson said. “I am letting all of you go. Thank you all for your service. It was very much appreciated.”
McPherson said he couldn’t answer questions about the case other than to say, “Something has happened outside of court.” The trial for the accused, Steven Terry Jordan, will be held on another date. Meanwhile, all who answered the call for jury duty in this case are excused from serving on a jury for the next year.
Barton County Attorney Amy Mellor later confirmed that Jordan’s trial was continued at Jordan’s request.
“I cannot comment on the details of the case because it is still being prosecuted, but Mr. Jordan has been appointed new counsel,” Mellor said.
Jordan, now 49 years old, is charged with rape, aggravated battery and criminal damage to property, all stemming for the events that occurred on February 6, 2013, in Great Bend.
He was convicted on all three counts by a jury in 2015 but has been granted a new trial by the Court of Appeals.
Starting Tuesday morning and going until around 2:30 p.m., Barton County Assistant Attorney Douglas Matthews and defense attorney Benjamin Fisher took turns questioning prospective jurors in groups of 20 about their backgrounds and potential biases. Both attorneys asked potential jurors if they could be fair and impartial, and if they could only convict the defendant if his guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Potential jurors had already been sent questionnaires prior to coming to court.
At one point, Fisher asked if recent national news might prejudice any of the potential jurors.
“There’s been nothing but talk of sexual assault in the news for several weeks,” he said. “Everybody formed an opinion; it divided the country. You are going to be asked to decide a case based on the evidence. Can we all do that?”
No one said they couldn’t.
Fisher also asked if anyone in the group had a strong desire to serve.
“Does anyone really want to be on a jury?” Fisher asked. He said it’s a question he always asks, but until Tuesday no one had ever said, “yes.”
Four people raised their hands.
Reasons given included civic duty, a sense of fairness and wanting to see a trial from the other side, given by a woman who said she used to work for Judge Barry Bennington. Rep. Tory Marie Arnberger (R-Great Bend) was also a potential juror who raised her hand. Among other things, Arnberger said she thought the experience would be educational; she noted that she teaches business law at Otis-Bison High School.
A new trial
At Jordan’s trial in 2015, Matthews, who was then County Attorney, and Amy Mellor, who was Assistant County Attorney, presented evidence and witnesses to show that around 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2013, Jordan went to a house in the 1100 block of Morphy Street in Great Bend, broke the dead-bolt on the wooden front door, entered and raped a 22-year-old woman.
The defense presented a case in which they suggested the woman lied to police and to the jury about having consensual sex with Jordan for drugs.
District Judge Ron Svaty sentenced him to more than 50 years in prison for rape, the most serious charge. However, on an appeal Jordan’s attorneys argued that the district court violated his constitutional right to present this theory of defense by excluding relevant evidence; he was not allowed to present evidence of the woman’s prior drug use.
The Court of Appeals agreed and published its opinion on Jan. 12, stating, “Because we agree that Jordan was denied his right to present his defense, we reverse his convictions, vacate his sentences, and remand for a new trial.”
Jordan remains in custody in the Barton County Jail after being transferred from the El Dorado Correctional Facility.