The former Philadelphia police officer facing murder charges for fatally shooting a man after a 2017 traffic stop will be tried next year before a jury of city residents, after a judge Monday denied a request by his lawyers to fill the panel with non-Philadelphians due to the publicity surrounding the case.
Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara A. McDermott rendered her decision after assembling a group of 60 would-be jurors in her courtroom and asking them, among other questions, if they had heard or read about the case against Ryan Pownall, the first city cop in nearly two decades to be charged for an on-duty shooting.
The exercise was the second time this year that McDermott has polled residents called to the Stout Center for Criminal Justice for jury duty in an attempt to see how difficult it might be to assemble an impartial panel for Pownall’s third-degree murder trial, which is scheduled to begin in January.
Pownall’s attorneys, Fortunato Perri Jr. and Charles Gibbs, had argued that Pownall could not receive a fair trial before Philadelphians due to an “avalanche of inflammatory media attention” over the death of David Jones.
Pownall is accused of shooting Jones in the back as Jones fled from a traffic stop in North Philadelphia in June 2017. The prosecution by District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office has been described as an “absurd disgrace” by officials with the police union, who have frequently and publicly sparred with Krasner over issues as he has sought to remake the prosecutor’s office.
McDermott’s experiment found that 21 of the 120 people polled Monday had heard about the shooting, and that five had fixed opinions on the case — evidently not enough to convince her that jurors should be brought in from elsewhere. McDermott did not explain her ruling.
Empaneling an out-of-county jury is not unprecedented in high-profile cases. Earlier this year, an Allegheny County judge ruled that jurors in former East Pittsburgh Officer Michael Rosfeld’s homicide case should be selected from elsewhere due to the attention the case had received in Pittsburgh.
In 2017, jurors in Bill Cosby’s first sexual-assault trial in Montgomery County were picked and transported from Allegheny County after a judge ruled that the case — which had become an issue in the race for Montgomery County’s district attorney — had received outsize local attention.
Pownall, who is free on bail, sat quietly in court Monday as McDermott polled the would-be jurors. None will serve on the panel for his trial, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 6.