A first-degree murder trial began, and ended, in just a few hours Tuesday, and now the parents accused in their daughter’s death will wait until September to face a jury.
The surprise end to Russell Long and Jessica Adkins’ first-degree murder trial came just after lunch when a frustrated and angry judge stopped the proceedings after learning a key defense witness isn’t available this week.
Long’s attorney, Public Defender Jeff Kelly, told Washington County Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp before the lunch break that a witness he needs is unavailable because the doctor’s father is dying.
In a pretrial conference in Cupp’s office Tuesday morning, Kelly apparently told the judge he had released the doctor from his subpoena because of his ailing father, but now needed the testimony for his case.
“I wouldn’t have started this morning if I’d been told we had an expert out of pocket,” Cupp said. The judge said he was “confused” because he said Kelly told him he wouldn’t use that witness.
Kelly indicated that wasn’t what he told Cupp, but that he was trying to be sensitive to the witness and go forward with the case in hopes of the witness’ being available.
Kelly said the witness’ father is “gravely ill. I was still hoping this morning that he could, in fact, attend this trial at some point.”
The whole matter infuriated Cupp so much he said he would no longer have conversations in his office with public defenders.
“I will never again deal in chambers with the public defender’s office. It will be in open court,” Cupp said.
That issue, on top of the anger Cupp expressed all morning from the bench about media coverage of the case, upset the judge even more.
Long, 26, and Adkins, 23, are both charged with the death of their 2-month, 3-week-old daughter, Kaylie Trinity Adkins. She died in March 2009 from injuries the investigator and prosecutors say were caused by Long and neglected by Adkins.
They are charged with first-degree felony murder in their child’s death.
The case was publicized initially after the couple’s arrest, but there had not been much else in the media until last week when the defense filed a motion to delay the case because of similarities to the Casey Anthony case in Florida.
In that motion, Kelly pointed out that both cases involved the death of a young child, both children have the same name — although spelled differently — and that the public outcry at Anthony’s acquittal could cause jurors here to be swayed in deciding a verdict for Long and Adkins.
Cupp denied that motion and had said the trial would go forward as planned.
And while the jury selection process began on schedule Tuesday, it didn’t start before Cupp took a few shots at local media for its coverage of the case.
He apologized to the jury panel because he said the selection process will be extended because of articles in the Johnson City Press and on a local television news station.
There had been progress in jury selection. By the lunch recess, attorneys in the case had qualified 10 people on two issues — pretrial publicity, or their knowledge of the case, and if they could put aside any knowledge of the Anthony trial and verdict.
Cupp, however, was frustrated there wasn’t more progress.
And while questioning from the three sets of attorneys — prosecutors Dennis Brooks and Erin McArdle, Long’s attorneys, Kelly and his assistant Bill Donaldson, and Adkins’ attorneys, Jim Bowman and Donna Bolton — had prolonged the process, only one person was released because he said he had read about the case and formed an opinion he could not change.
Still, Cupp openly criticized local media about coverage last week of Kelly’s motion.
In a similar fashion, Cupp was critical of the Press on the day of jury selection for a murder trial earlier this year because of an article that ran over the weekend before the trial started on Jan. 24. Attorneys had selected a final jury panel by day’s end.
Both Adkins and Long face life in prison if convicted at their September trial. Adkins is free on an OR, own recognizance, bond while Long is being held on a $1 million bond.
Press Staff Writer Becky Campbell has been tweeting live from the Russell Long and Jessica Adkins murder trial in the death of their daughter.
Follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/#!/CampbellinCourt. Facebook users also can keep up with Campbell's court coverage on her page at facebook.com/BeckyCampbellJCPress.