Jury selection in Kent trial extends to a 3rd day | SummitDaily.com

Jury selection in Kent trial extends to a 3rd day

After not having enough potential jurors Monday, jury selection will continue into Wednesday

The incident involving the alleged abuse of a corpse, for which Shannon and Staci Kent are charged, reportedly happened at the former Kent-Bailey Funeral Home in Silverthorne, pictured here March 8, 2021.
Taylor Sienkiewicz/Summit Daily News archive

Following Day 2 of the joint trial of Staci and Shannon Kent, there is still no jury selected after private questioning for select potential members of the jury extended into late Tuesday afternoon.

The Kents are facing charges of criminal attempt to commit tampering with a deceased human body and abuse of a corpse.

With testimony slated to begin this week, the trial’s jury selection Monday was cut short after 5th Judicial District Judge Terry Ruckriegle told the courtroom there were not enough jurors to continue with selection after only 15 people showed up. Jurors who did appear Monday were joined by another set of jurors who were called to appear Tuesday. In total, more than 40 members of the public showed up Tuesday for selection. Both groups received questionnaires to complete so the prosecution and the defense could expedite the selection process.

Because those questionnaires had questions pertaining to jurors’ personal information, according to Ruckriegle, certain members of the pool were selected for private questioning from counsel about their answers while the rest of the potential jurors sat in the gallery. After the private questioning of a few potential jurors took a couple of hours — with several more still waiting for their turn — Ruckriegle sent those who were not chosen for private questioning home for the day.

“Sometimes it takes longer, and we never know how long it’s going to take,” Ruckriegle told the members of the pool. “We were optimistic … that we would be farther along.”

Ruckriegle reminded jurors that they should not do any research regarding the case or discuss it with anyone since the questionnaire they filed revealed identifying information about which case they could be deciding. Because the Kents’ case has had a “considerable amount of media attention,” Ruckriegle said it would be imperative that potential jurors avoid speaking about it to anyone — even among themselves.

“We have to do the best we can to make it fair and impartial,” he added before dismissing the group of potential jurors for the day.

On Wednesday morning, both sides are scheduled to participate in traditional questioning for potential jurors, meaning those questions will be asked in the courtroom instead of privately. Ruckriegle said each side will get 30 minutes to ask questions. Jurors who are deemed to have prejudice will be asked to leave, along with those who have conflicts regarding serving throughout the trial.

The Kents were arrested more than a year ago in connection with a body that was found in their now-defunct funeral home in Silverthorne. Police say the body was badly decomposed after being left for months. According to the affidavit in support of probable cause for Shannon Kent’s arrest, paperwork included a notarized statement of embalming, but prosecutors say there was no date or location of when and where the embalming occurred.

Later, the body was identified as Victor Akubuo, a Nigerian man who died in a car crash in Park County on July 30, 2020.

The couple has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

According to the affidavit, the Kents said they could not send Akubuo’s body to Nigeria because of complications with air travel due to COVID-19 and that the Nigerian government had not authorized the body to be shipped.

During the first trial attempt in December 2021, Ruckriegle declared a mistrial after a key witness — T.J. Garcia, who took over management of the former Kent-Bailey Funeral Home with his mother — was exposed to COVID-19. Garcia met with authorities to share details of Akubuo’s body before the Kents were arrested in 2021. Prosecuting attorneys made the motion, and the defense agreed.

In September 2021, Shannon Kent — the former Lake County coroner — was found guilty of second-degree official misconduct. Police say he sent his wife to several death scenes in 2019 even though she was unauthorized to do so. Shannon Kent testified that his wife had acted as deputy coroner for two years before he filed a valid appointment with the Lake County Clerk’s Office. During that trial, he was found not guilty of perjury.

The trial is expected to continue throughout the week and possibly into Saturday.

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