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Phelps Lawyer Waives Jury Trial In Shooting Case

The lawyer representing the 16-year old accused of shooting a classmate at Martinsville West Middle School has elected to have a judge hear the case.

Martinsville shooting

Photo: Noel Brennan (WFIU News)

The teen accused of shooting a classmate at Martinsville West Middle School will still be tried as an adult.

Monrovia lawyer Steven Litz had earlier asked for jurors to be selected from Clay County instead of Morgan County because he believed it would be difficult to find an unbiased jury.  But Litz said almost as soon as jury selection began Friday, it became clear to him that the well had long since been poisoned against his client.  Litz said 47 of the 64 potential jurors admitted to judge Thomas Gray that they’d heard about the case, and 13 of those said they thought Michael Phelps was guilty of attempted murder for shooting Chance Jackson.

“That was only the number of people that actually would step up and admit that they thought that he was guilty.  It’s been my experience that easily two to three times the number of hands that go up truly hold those opinions,” Litz said.

Litz said he was surprised at how far coverage of the case had extended from Martinsville, leading him to believe  it could be impossible to impanel a fair jury not just from Clay County, but perhaps from anywhere but the furthest reaches of the state.  The safer option, Litz said, is a bench trial in front of only Judge Gray.

“Indiana is one of two states where juries actually determine what the law is.  So that argument goes away.  But this jury I felt was so biased against Michael that there was no way they were going to give us a break on the case,” he said.  “The judge doesn’t give breaks.  The judge applies the law to the evidence.”

Litz said he began his presentation to the potential jurors by admitting his client is guilty of five of the six counts against him, or all but the attempted murder charge.  He said he hopes a judge hearing the case will accept what he admits is a technical argument that Phelps did not intend to kill Jackson when he pulled the trigger.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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