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The first jury trial in 19th Judicial District Court since the coronavirus outbreak hit in March drew vastly different reviews from East Baton Rouge Parish's top prosecutor and its chief public defender.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he believes the trial last week of a Baton Rouge man in the 2018 attempted killing of his ex-girlfriend "ran smoothly."

Thomas James Green Jr., 61, was convicted Thursday of attempted second-degree murder and faces up to 50 years in prison when he's sentenced Oct. 6.

Mike Mitchell runs the parish's public defenders office, which represented Green, and said Friday he feels the trial procedure was "uncomfortable for everyone involved."

Mitchell is calling for collaboration on developing a "better procedure with the courts for future trials."

Green's trial saw masked jurors sit socially distanced in the audience while witnesses testified one by one from the jury box. The prosecution and defense teams, with their backs to the judge, faced the jurors. Spectators sat in the very back of the large, rarely used 11th-floor courtroom.

Welcome to what Moore aptly described as the "new normal" for jury trials in the 19th JDC.

The "new normal" tag applied to virtually every aspect of the trial, from jury selection to jury deliberations.

Dozens of potential jurors initially gathered Monday in the large jury management room on the courthouse's first floor, then panels of 14 prospective jurors were taken to a second-floor courtroom for questioning throughout the day. Spectators could only view jury selection from the jury management room, to maintain social distancing in the courtroom.

Once the jury was picked, the trial was moved to the massive, seldom used complex litigation courtroom on the courthouse's top floor. When it was time for the jury to deliberate in private, they used a conference room on the 11th floor where the 19th JDC judges hold their meetings.

Moore, whose office prosecuted Green, said the first 19th JDC jury trial since the coronavirus outbreak was "obviously different than before COVID."

"The safety procedures implemented by the Court were well thought out to protect the safety of all involved while preserving all measures necessary to guarantee a fair trial and protecting the defendant's constitutional rights," Moore said.

The judge, jury management, court staff, prosecutors and defense attorneys "adapted to the necessary changes and made this a success," the district attorney added.

Mitchell has a different opinion.

"In order to be certain that the jurors are attentive to the evidence, testimony that is being presented to them, they must be able to concentrate," he said. "The stakes regarding the life of the accused and justice for the victim are too high to experiment in a trial that requires certainty in the verdicts that are rendered."

Moore said previously that after the trial concluded "we will all get together to review the process and take input from all involved to continue to make the process the best it can be."

The district attorney added Thursday that his office is looking forward to getting back to a "new normal" jury trial schedule.

For the time being as the coronavirus pandemic continues, the 19th JDC's plan is to hold no more than one criminal trial per week.

"We need to move to a more regular jury selection of multiple juries being selected per week as they are doing in Shreveport," Moore said.

"Only time will tell when we get back to that point," he said. "However, things will always be different now."


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.