It’s a case that is on the verge of trial, and the prosecutor and defense attorney for Corey Lyons, the suspect in a double homicide in Santa Barbara, met Tuesday to determine which evidence will be presented to jurors.
The case involves two local attorneys, Daniel Patrick Lyons, 55, and his wife, Barbara Lorene Scharton, 48, who were shot to death in their Mesa home in May 2009. Lyons’ brother, Corey, is a suspect in the case and has been in custody for more than a year awaiting trial. The husband and wife were embroiled in a lawsuit with Lyons that investigators have said may have been the motive.
Lyons appeared in court in a suit and tie Tuesday in front of Judge Brian Hill, taking copious notes at the defendant’s table. Most of the two-hour discussion centered on what evidence to admit as the case moves to trial.
One aspect of the talks centered on what part of the civil lawsuit between the brothers should be admitted. It’s the lawsuit filed by Corey Lyons against his brother for worker’s compensation for construction on the couple’s home, and is reported to involve as much as $1.4 million in unreported wages. The complaint was filed in October 2008, and which portions to submit to the jury still have to be discussed by Lyons defense attorney Robert Sanger and district attorney prosecutor Gordon Auchincloss.
Which witnesses to admit to the stand also was discussed. Scharton had expressed fear of Lyons to several witnesses, according to Auchincloss, telling one that if the witness ever saw Lyons at her house, to call the police. But Sanger encouraged the judge to retain the testimony that would have linked Lyons to breaking and entering, rather than implying that Scharton was afraid Lyons would kill her and her husband.
“These are people who had other enemies,” Sanger said. “If they were really afraid of Corey, they would have changed their locks.”
By far the lengthiest discussion of the afternoon came as Sanger and Judge Hill delved into heady legal conversation about a phone call Lyons made a few hours after the murders to criminal defense attorney Steve Balash, and whether the phone call should be presented to jurors. The contents of the call would not be disclosed; it’s unknown what was exchanged between Lyons and Sanger, if anything, and Judge Hill said that merely stating that Lyons made the call would not unduly influence the jury.
But Sanger took great issue with the judge’s stance. An individual’s constitutional right to seek counsel would be threatened if the evidence was allowed, Sanger argued, because the jury would be led to infer Lyons’ guilt by the mere existence of the call.
Judge Hill held his ground, but said that if Sanger could return to court with legal precedence on the issue, he would consider it.
According to Hill, opening statements could begin as early as next week, but the case moving forward will be contingent on selecting a jury. Finding 12 people who haven’t heard about the case will no doubt be a challenge during voir dire, and Hill has said he’s dedicated to finding jurors with as little knowledge about the case as possible.
“If it takes us 500 jurors, it takes us 500 jurors,” Hill said.
Auchincloss took a different stance, saying it’s important to have a good cross-section of the area represented on the jury, in addition to the practicality of finding 12 jurors who know little about the case.
“You cannot have lived in this town and not have heard about this case,” he said, adding that well-informed people are the people the prosecution, and defense, should want as jurors.
“It’s a fairness issue,” Hill said, adding that in order to maintain a fair jury, finding 12 people with as little knowledge about the case as possible would be key.
Finding those jurors is expected to begin quickly, and 100 jurors are slated to come in Thursday for screening.