Missing jury postpones trial

GREENFIELD — The murder trial of Amanda Gonzales, one of three people accused of plotting the shooting death of an Indianapolis woman, was postponed Monday morning after no jurors showed up to the Hancock County Courthouse.

Seventy-five people were mailed general notices of jury duty, Hancock Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow said. But those potential jurors apparently never received a secondary notice summoning them to court Monday to hear the case against Gonzales, forcing the court to reschedule the trial.

Snow’s office is responsible for assembling the jury pool, and Snow said both letters were sent out on schedule.

He said he’s not sure what happened to prevent the letters from reaching the recipients’ mailboxes.

“It’s rather embarrassing, but there is absolutely nothing we can do about,” he said. “You can’t have a jury trial without a jury.”

Jurors are told to arrive at the courthouse by 8:30 a.m. on the first day of the trial, and people usually start getting there around 8 a.m. As the 9 a.m. trial time edged closer and closer, it became apparent Monday there had been a problem, Snow said.

His staff called six people on the jury list at random to find out where they were. Every person they contacted said they had not received a notice to appear at the courthouse Monday.

“I’ve been a judge for 12 years and a prosecutor for 16 years before that, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of something like this happening,” Snow said.

The court postponed Gonzales’ case to April 13.

Gonzales is the third defendant to appear before the court regarding Miller’s murder.

The two women were reportedly romantic rivals who argued after Gonzales found Miller in a hotel room with Gonzales’ then-boyfriend, Ronnie Westbrook.

Miller’s body was found in a cornfield on Hancock County’s west side last July. She died from a single gunshot wound to the head.

The accused shooter, Joe Meyers, was convicted last fall of murder and kidnapping. He is serving a 75-year sentence in an Indiana Department of Corrections facility.

Westbrook, who was also charged in the case, accepted a plea agreement earlier this month. He is expected to testify against Gonzales.

He testified during Meyers’ trial that Gonzales had planned to kill Miller but handed the gun to Meyers when she couldn’t go through with it.

Postponing the trial date caused issues, including with the completion of Westbrook’s case, which is still pending.

Westbrook’s pending plea agreement requires him to testify against Gonzales in order to be given the chance to plead to lesser charges. His sentencing was originally scheduled for April 15 because Gonzales’ trial was expected to have concluded by that time.

Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said rescheduling Gonzales’ trial for just two days prior to Westbrook’s sentencing might not give him the opportunity to fulfill the terms of the plea agreement.

Eaton said he was sure the court would move Westbrook’s sentencing back a few weeks, but it is ultimately up to Westbrook’s legal team to decide that with the court, he said.

“(Westbrook) has the right to be sentenced within 30 days of his hearing,” Eaton said. “We’ll have to see if he is willing to roll that or risk being sentenced before he completes the terms of his agreement.”

Eaton said his might now have to rearrange the order of witnesses the state plans to call.

One of those witnesses, Tara Holmes, was visibly disappointed when she was turned away from the courthouse around 9 a.m. Monday morning.

“I drove 45 minutes from Indianapolis to get here, and I have two sick kids (at home),” she said.

Rescheduling also means a new set of jurors.

Because jury pools are formed quarterly, a new pool of jurors is scheduled to be created on April 1.

This means those who missed their court appearance Monday will likely be off the hook, and a new group of people will receive notices next week of their jury duty.

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.