Finding fair and impartial jurors for the trial of Alexander West, the man accused of crashing his boat on Lake George while intoxicated last summer and killing an 8-year-old girl, was no easy task Monday.
About 100 potential jurors were questioned by both sides throughout the day before Warren County Judge John Hall selected the last two jurors of the day at around 5 p.m., contributing to nine jurors selected. Five more jurors, including two alternates, will need to be approved before the trial starts. Hall expects the slate to be filled in time for opening statements to begin at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Cheryl Coleman, West’s attorney, said the the morning’s pre-screening stage, during which two-thirds of the jurors said they couldn’t be fair and impartial, was “very discouraging.” Her motion to move the trial from Warren County Court to another venue due the publicity the case has received was rejected, she said Monday.
“A lot of people [were] saying in different levels of politeness why they couldn’t be fair and impartial,” she said. “They were saying that they couldn’t get past what they had read or heard, and that they had formed opinions, and some of them said it nicer than others.”
Even after those potential jurors were sent home, when West’s counsel asked a smaller group toward the end of the vetting process if they had heard about the case in the news, almost every hand shot up.
“I’m not crazy about that, but we do the best we can with it,” Coleman said.
West, of Lake George, is accused of driving a powerboat that struck another boat at about 9:20 p.m. July 25 off Cramer Point, killing 8-year-old Charlotte McCue after West and four passengers had been partying at Log Bay Day, an annual summer party.
Coleman said only one of the passengers, Cara Mia Canale, of Albany, “somebody that they made a deal with,” will be testifying during the trial.
West pleaded not guilty to a 12-count indictment in October that includes second-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault charges. The most serious charge, manslaughter, could result in a sentence of up to 15 years.
West is also charged with second-degree assault for allegedly recklessly causing serious physical injury to the girl’s mother, Courtney McCue. The McCues, from Carlsbad, California, were visiting the girl’s grandparents at Lake George at the time of the crash.
Police have said West’s boat, a 22-foot power boat, struck and went over the top of the 28-foot Gar Wood boat in which McCue was riding.
Court filings from District Attorney Kate Hogan’s office claim that West was driving faster than the night-time lake speed limit of 25 mph without any navigation lights on. He was also seen smoking “‘dabs,’ concentrated hash, on at least two occasions,” Assistant District Attorney Emilee Davenport said at the Jan. 17 filing.
The same court papers revealed that blood test results showing marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy in West’s system after he crashed his boat would not be used as evidence in the trial, with Davenport explaining that a search warrant directing sheriff’s deputies to sample West’s blood did not meet the technical requirements of criminal procedure law.
The trial is expected to last about three weeks.