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Jury pool shrinks to 27 in Conaway case

Twelve jurors, four alternatives to be chosen for trial Sept. 16
September 11, 2019

A jury pool of about 90 shrunk to 27 after a series of questions posed to potential jurors sought to eliminate anyone with a pre-existing bias in the rape case against a Georgetown man.

Jury selection will be held Monday, Sept. 16, in Sussex County Superior Court for Clay Conaway, 23, accused of first-degree rape. The trial is expected to run through Wednesday, Sept. 25.

Sept. 11 was the second day of jury motions, after the first jury pool was dismissed when a potential juror spoke openly about the case with other potential jurors and was overheard by more than a dozen others.

Superior Court Judge Richard F. Stokes presented potential jurors with 27 questions during the voir dire process to determine whether potential jurors have any bias going into a trial. Questions included whether they knew Conaway, his parents, and dozens of investigators and officials who have been involved in the case; whether they had ever been sexually assaulted or abused; whether they work for or support organizations that support women who have been abused; and whether they have had experiences with online dating sites, Instagram or Snapchat that would prevent them from being unbiased. Jurors were also asked whether media exposure of accused rapist Harvey Weinstein, convicted rapist Bill Cosby or sexual abuse cases involving other prominent men has caused them to have a negative opinion of the defendants or biased opinion of anyone accused of sexual assault.

After a full day of questioning potential jurors – most of whom were excused – Stokes reminded the remaining 27 potential jurors that they should not discuss the case. “No talking at all to anyone,” he said about the case.

And he warned potential jurors not to listen to or read any media coverage of the case. “Outside influences poison the well,” he said.

Stokes said a jury of 12 with four alternatives will be chosen, and opening statements will follow.

With only 27 left in the jury pool, all but 11 are expected to be seated on the jury. Prosecutors and the defense typically are allowed six challenges each, allowing them to remove a seated juror who is then replaced by one from the remaining jury pool.

Conaway is facing a first-degree rape charge after a woman said he forced her to have intercourse with him in June 2018 while at his Georgetown home. After a grand jury two months later indicted Conaway on first-degree rape, six other women stepped forward, leading to more charges that included second-degree rape, attempted second-degree rape and strangulation. Two second-degree rape charges date back to 2013 and 2014, while other incidents reportedly happened in 2018.

In a July Memorandum Opinion, Stokes ruled that there will be six separate trials against Conaway, despite the state’s attempt to link the cases. The first-degree rape trial is the first of six expected against Conaway.

First-day dismissal

About 100 prospective jurors were dismissed Sept. 10 during the first day of jury selection. 

Questioning of potential jurors was underway when Judge Stokes, prosecutors and defense attorneys learned that one potential juror openly spoke about the case with other potential jurors before entering the courtroom, and more than a dozen others overheard.

“Nobody is to talk about the case, period,” Stokes said, after calling the juror up front and asking anyone if they spoke with him or overheard what he said.

More than a dozen raised their hands that they had, and after they were questioned, the entire jury pool was dismissed. State prosecutor Casey Ewart declined to comment on what was said. So did Conaway's defense attorney Joseph Hurley, who gave only a general description of what occurred.

“There was a procedural default with the jury,” Hurley said. “There are certain restrictions that prospective jurors are supposed to follow.”

Sean O'Sullivan, spokesman for Delaware Courts, released a statement a day later that read: “The Court, with the agreement of all counsel, determined that in order to maintain the integrity of the jury selection process to dismiss the potential jurors summoned yesterday and continue with jury selection today.”