Nikolaus L. Johnson listens during court proceedings in Blountville last week. Photo by Lee Talbert.
BLOUNTVILLE - Like an approaching storm, the possibility of a first-degree murder trial lasting through the month of April is looming on the horizon.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case of Nikolaus L. Johnson, 28, Bristol, Va., charged in the shooting death of Bristol Police Department Officer Mark Vance, 30, on Thanksgiving weekend 2004.
Vance responded to a domestic call on Belmont Avenue, where Johnson allegedly shot the officer in the face at point-blank range. According to witnesses, on Nov. 27, 2004, Vance entered the home of Johnson's 17-year-old pregnant girlfriend. Johnson allegedly stated he would not go to jail for statutory rape and that he was going to shoot the first person to enter the residence.
Family members and friends of both Vance and Johnson have been in Beck's courtroom every day. However, Vance's widow, Tina, mother of his 11-year-old daughter, has not been present.
Sullivan County Circuit Judge Jerry Beck has excused more than 30 potential jurors since April 10 because of their familiarity with the case.
After spending a week at the Sullivan County Justice Center, potential jurors, from three separate jury pools, appear to be growing more impatient each day.
At least two potential jurors indicated their feelings about the proceedings and the possibility of being sequestered for two weeks.
One woman, after being excused from the jury, thanked Beck with obvious delight and quickly left the jury box.
Another potential juror was called back into the courtroom after sitting with his eyes closed while the group was being addressed by Johnson City attorney Jim Bowman.
First Beck asked the man how he felt physically and was he on medication. When the judge asked him if he could be alert through hearing the case, the man responded, "Sure, if we can get to hearing the case."
Later Beck said, "The process is slow, as you all sitting here know."
Late Friday afternoon, Beck and the attorneys had hoped jury selection would be complete by Monday morning and that opening arguments could be heard Monday afternoon.
As Beck pointed out to the potential jurors, "This trial is going take two weeks - from today."
At about 5:30 p.m., even the judge had had enough. "I'm sorry," he said. "It's just time to quit for the judge."
Jury selection continues this morning at 9:30 a.m.