BELTON — The trial of ousted Nolanville mayor Charlie Lee Stewart began Monday with the meticulous selection of a jury of eight women and four men.
Lawyers worked into the evening hours whittling down a pool of 70 people to serve on the jury. Stewart is accused of repeatedly raping a 12-year-old girl in 2011.
He was arrested in July 2012 while still serving as Nolanville’s twice-elected mayor.
He was forced from the position in September 2012 after missing several City Council meetings because he was in jail.
Questions presented to the jury Monday revolved around what could be the fatal flaw in the state’s case: The jury may only be presented with the testimony of one witness to the alleged abuse.
“To be honest and fair, I would have to have more than one person’s testimony,” said one dismissed juror, a young female.
Court filings leading up to Stewart’s trial showed the victim in the case will not testify in person. Instead, prosecutors will rely on testimony from the victim’s mother.
Media coverage of the case swelled because of Stewart’s prominent political role in Nolanville, leading lawyers to question jurors about exposure to television and news reports.
Two said coverage of Stewart’s alleged crimes led them to form an opinion of Stewart’s guilt or innocence. Several said they learned elements of the case from media reports as recent as Monday morning.
Prosecutors made numerous challenges to potential jurors who answered questions that they would need more evidence beyond the account of a single witness, even if they believed that witness beyond a reasonable doubt.
“You don’t want to be faced in a situation of a he-said, she-said?” prosecutor Shelley Strimple asked one juror.
“I know people do lie and people do not believe things in their own minds,” said another dismissed juror, a middle-aged male.
What the prosecution may use beyond the account of the victim’s mother is evidence that Stewart sexually abused four other minors dating back to 1988.
Opening arguments will begin at 9:30 a.m. today in the 426th District Court. Judge Fancy Jezek is presiding.