PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - After hours of questioning a pool of potential jurors on Wednesday, 12 jurors were selected for Nashid Porter's murder trial in Pender County. That was until Porter used his final peremptory challenge, a request by the defense or prosecution to remove a juror, to dismiss a woman because she had a vacation scheduled with her family.
Three alternate jurors and one panel juror will be selected Thursday morning and opening statements could begin as early as next week. Porter's standby counsel explained there could be a 404(b) hearing to introduce evidence in Hester's murder on Thursday. In the hearing, they would present the evidence to Judge Chuck Henry and he would decide if it would be allowed in the trial.
Court went into recess Wednesday evening around 5:30 p.m.
Much of the day was spent questioning potential jurors about the investigation, media coverage and their ability to serve as a juror in the trial.
Porter is charged with first-degree murder in connection to the July 2012 death of 32-year-old Brian Grant. While on pre-trial release, Porter allegedly took a prosecution witness in the Grant murder case, Obediah Hester IV, 27, of Wilmington, to an area between Wallace and Harrells and killed him execution-style.
New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David said he intends on calling about 20 witnesses to the stand.
David asked Judge Chuck Henry to ban reporters from shooting video of the witnesses inside the courtroom on Wednesday. He said they are concerned for their own safety.
Henry said he would take the request under advisement, but he had not made a decision by the end of court on Wednesday evening.
Once three alternate jurors are chosen, the court will discuss pre-trial matters. Porter asked Henry if he needed to be in attendance for those discussions stating, "I came for a trial."
Henry indicated there would be no problem with Porter skipping the pre-trial discussions.
Porter's standby counsel said there could be a 404(b) hearing to introduce evidence in Hester's murder on Thursday.
Henry started Wednesday's court proceedings by reminding Porter of the warning he gave him Tuesday afternoon during a pre-trial hearing.
The judge told Porter that if he didn't stop behaving in a way that obstructed the progress of the trial, he would be forced to remove him from the courtroom, and ultimately the entire trial.
Porter told the judge he was going to be cooperative as long as "the court followed the Constitution" and the laws of North Carolina.
Henry said the court intended to do so.
The pre-trial hearing continued with three new motions written and filed by Porter Tuesday night. The first asked for Judge Chuck Henry to recuse himself. After the judge read it aloud, Porter made an objection, and explained he changed his mind.
The next motion asked for the case against him to be dismissed because he was denied his right to a speedy trial. He claimed he fired his former attorney, Nora Hargrove, because she delayed his trial. Hargrove was one of four attorneys Porter fired. He also claimed the prosecution caused delays by withholding certain information in discovery.
District Attorney Ben David explained to Judge Henry that the State tried numerous times to get the the case to trial. He stated that the first trial date in June 2014 was continued by the defense because Porter's attorney was set to retire, and did.
He said the complicating factor for the next date, set for January 2015, was the killing of Obediah Hester.
The current trial date was set in December 2015. Judge Henry denied the defendant's motion to dismiss.
The next motion filed by Porter Tuesday night was described by Judge Henry as a motion to suppress. At first, Porter couldn't remember what he wrote, but then recalled he wanted the surveillance done on him to be kept from the trial.
He claimed the State bugged several of his family member's phones.
David said the investigator who completed the surveillance was set to testify in this case, and was cross-sworn with the Wilmington Police Department and the US Marshals.
The motions that followed were filed by Porter's former attorney, Nora Hargrove. They included one that requested the entire trial be recorded, and one that asked the defendant's religion, which appears to be Islam, to not be discussed during the trial. Porter objected to the latter, and said his religion was a part of his life that he did not need to hide.
Judge Henry told the defendant his family would be allowed in the courtroom during the proceedings, but Porter stated he did not want any of his family present.
The pre-trial motions hearing began Tuesday. Jury selection was to begin at 2 p.m., but was delayed until Porter can receive and wear the Islamic attire he requested.
The motions hearing suddenly ended when Porter chucked a file into the audience. He did it after he told the judge he, "didn't want to disrespect the court, but was going to throw the file" if it wasn't removed from his desk by a bailiff.
Last week, a judge ruled Porter forfeited his right to an attorney after firing four court-appointed attorneys and disrupting court several times. He will defend himself in the trial, with the assistance of Richard McNeil, who was appointed his stand-by counsel.
The case is being tried in Pender County after the defendant requested a change of venue.
Porter sat alone at the defense table Tuesday, surrounded by several documents and legal books.
While the judge attempted to go over matters concerning jury selection, Porter interrupted him several times, and accused he and District Attorney Ben David of "running a criminal enterprise to wrongly convict him."
He stated that this trial was "the most unconstitutional he'd ever heard of, [he] felt like he was in North Korea," because the judge denied a motion Porter made to challenge the jury selection process.
After lunch recess, Porter became upset at the subpoena documents he was given, and stormed out of the courtroom without the judge's approval. Judge Chuck Henry warned him upon his return that if he didn't stop behaving in a way that obstructed the progress of the pre-trial hearing, and ultimately the start of the trial, he would be forced to remove him from the courtroom.
If that does happen, his stand-by counsel could have to take over the defense for the trial.
District Attorney Ben David requested a 404(b) hearing, to admit hearsay evidence into the trial. That would take place before the trial began.
The judge found Porter in contempt five times before the hearing ended. The hearing will resume at 9:30 Wednesday morning.
Porter filed a motion Tuesday night to have Judge Hester recused from the case. When the motion was introduced in court Wednesday morning, Porter objected to it and said he changed his mind. The motion was ultimately dismissed.