When a Baton Rouge judge asked Monday how many of the 130 potential jurors had heard or read of the murder case involving Jace Crehan, his girlfriend Brittany Monk and victim Robert Noce Jr., 63 hands went up.
That show of hands highlights the challenge prosecutors and Crehan's attorneys will face this week in picking a fair and impartial jury to hear the high-profile second-degree murder case against the 23-year-old Walker man.
Monk, 19, also of Walker, pleaded guilty in June to manslaughter in the slaying of Noce, 47, of Zachary, and agreed to testify at Crehan's trial. East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors have rejected Crehan's offer to plead guilty to manslaughter.
Noce's body was found stuffed inside a 55-gallon plastic barrel in his trailer on July 5, 2015, less than two weeks after he pleaded no contest to molesting Monk when she was a child. He was put on probation. A no contest plea carries the same weight as a guilty plea in criminal court but cannot be used against a defendant in civil court.
Noce, the former boyfriend of Monk's mother, was stabbed and strangled.
Monk, who admitted helping Crehan kill Noce, was seven months pregnant with Crehan's child at the time of Noce's death.
Jury selection in the Crehan case is expected to last several days. State District Judge Tony Marabella is using the largest courtroom in the 19th Judicial District Courthouse for the jury selection process. Once the jury is picked, the trial will move from that 11th-floor courtroom to Marabella's everyday courtroom on the eighth floor.
One prospective male juror was excused after he said he felt second-degree murder is too harsh a penalty for Crehan.
"I really don't have a whole lot of sympathy for the victim," he told the judge, prosecutors and Crehan's defense team.
Another potential juror, a woman, said it was "heinous" what Noce was accused of doing to Monk. The woman, who likewise was excused, shared that she too experienced a traumatic event in her childhood.
"He probably deserved everything he got, but murder is illegal," she said.
Several other prospective jurors were allowed to remain in the jury pool after they said they had not formed an opinion about Crehan's guilt or innocence despite having heard or read about the case.
Crehan has confessed to law enforcement and in letters and phone calls to The Advocate that he killed Noce. The letters were detailed in a news article. Prosecutors used a subpoena to obtain the letters from the newspaper.
Prosecutors also have subpoenaed former Advocate reporters Maya Lau and Danielle Maddox to testify at Crehan's trial.
Crehan's statements to the newspaper that Monk was not in agreement with Noce's plea, and that the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office and state district court had failed her, were fabrications, prosecutors have said in court.
Crehan faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. Manslaughter carries up to 40 years behind bars.