MARIANNA — Nine jurors have been selected for the felony trial of former Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputy Zach Wester.
The process to choose a panel of six with three alternates got underway Wednesday morning around 8:30 a.m. and jurors had been seated by around noon.
Three days had been set aside for the selection process and a pool of about 700 had been put on notice to appear as potential jurors in the case. But the nine — seven men and two women — were selected from the first group of 21 individuals assembled to start the process.
Wester is charged with multiple offenses, primarily based around accusations that he planted fabricated evidence during some of the traffic stops he conducted while employed with the agency. The 72 counts against him as of a hearing late last month include: One count of racketeering, 13 counts of official misconduct, 13 counts of fabricating evidence, 12 counts of felony possession of methamphetamine, seven counts of false imprisonment, 13 counts of perjury, one count of the possession of marijuana and 12 counts of possession of drug paraphernalia.
At that hearing in late April, court officials indicated Wester could be sentenced to as much as 255 years in state prison, if convicted on all counts.
Jury selection was conducted at the Jackson County Agriculture Center on U.S. Highway 90, that location being used instead of the Jackson County Courthouse, because it would accommodate more people and allow for adherence to COVID-19 social-distancing guidelines.
The trial itself, expected to take roughly two-and-a-half weeks, will be held in the Jackson County Courthouse. More than 40 witnesses could be called. It is expected to begin Monday, with jurors reporting for duty just before 8:30 a.m.
Attorney Ryan Davis leads Wester’s defense.
Tom Williams of the state attorney’s office in a different circuit leads the prosecution for the state.
Circuit Judge James Goodman will preside.