Trial is set to begin this week for the man accused of killing a promising young local basketball player, and it will begin with restrictions on the defense designed to protect witnesses.
James M. Wells, 31, of Brooklyn, appeared in Schenectady County Court Monday for the final pre-trial hearings in the case. Jury selection is to begin Wednesday.
Before the hearings, though, prosecutor Philip Mueller sought and won restrictions on trial material given to the defense on the eve of trial.
After arguments, Supreme Court Justice Michael V. Coccoma, who is to preside over the trial, ordered that material identifying witnesses in the case be kept by Wells’ attorney, with Wells only able to review them in the presence of his attorney.
Once the meetings are over, Wells is to be searched by corrections officers before returning to his cell.
Jury selection in the case is set to begin Wednesday. Wells faces multiple counts, including second-degree murder.
Wells is accused of killing 15-year-old Eddie Stanley, a member of the Schenectady High School basketball team.
Stanley was shot to death early June 12, 2011, at a 730 Bridge St. party that quickly turned chaotic after Wells and friends accused the partygoers of stealing a set of rental car keys, authorities have said.
Wells and some friends detained those at the party, demanding to search belongings and threatening strip searches on anyone there, according to authorities. They shut the party down.
Some consented to the search demands, officials have said. Others, including Stanley’s friends, refused. A fistfight broke out and the struggle moved to a narrow stairway.
Stanley did not start the fight, authorities have said. He only got involved after the fight started. He also wasn’t armed, nor was anyone else at the party — Wells had made sure of that. Wells was at the party working security, officials have said. He helped take cover charges and pat down partygoers for weapons.
Wells has maintained his innocence.
Monday’s ruling follows at least one prior case in an unrelated murder, where similar restrictions were issued but relaxed during the trial.
In the Wells case, Mueller indicated in court that Wells had made phone calls to fellow gang members from jail and had spoken in code. Wells is allegedly a member of the Bloods gang.
There also appeared to be other evidence supporting the prosecution’s request that wasn’t fully set out in court.
Wells is represented by attorney Cheryl Coleman. She opposed the order, arguing there was no proof presented to the court to support it. She also pointed out the ample security in the courthouse and courtroom.
She indicated such an order would infringe on her client’s rights to participate in his own defense and prepare for trial.
“I’ll stand in the way of that every step that I can,” she argued. Coleman, though, said she would abide by the ruling.
Coccoma found the protective order would allow Wells to assist in his defense, but still afford some measure of protection for witnesses.
Defendants are generally allowed access on their own, so they can read through the material in their cells or at home.
In one 2011 murder trial, such paperwork actually made it onto the street and accusations were later made of a conspiracy to kill witnesses in the case.
In that case, in which Wade McCommons was convicted of the 2009 killing of Laurel Teer in a botched deli robbery, prosecutors won a similar pre-trial protective order on documents.
That order, though, was relaxed during the trial, allowing McCommons to take documents back to his cell. McCommons was later accused of passing some along to fellow inmate and Bloods gang member Derrick C. Smith, who got them out of the jail.
Investigators at the jail and in the district attorney’s office, however, caught the plot before the witnesses were put in physical danger, prosecutors have said.
Smith was later indicted on multiple conspiracy counts, accused of conspiring to kill witnesses. He was sentenced last month to an extra 10 years in state prison on top of the 20 he received in his own case.