BELLEFONTE — Omar Best took one step closer to trial Monday with the selection of a jury.
Best is accused of beating, strangling and raping a clerical employee at the Rockview state prison in July. He faces charges of forcible compulsion, rape of an unconscious victim, sexual assault and two counts of aggravated assault for the attack Assistant District Attorney Nathan Boob characterized as “vicious” in addressing the pool of potential jurors.
The attack garnered plenty of attention across the county, leading to several rounds of musical chairs as various members of the larger pool were replaced.
Two people were dismissed after they said they had formed an opinion on the case based on news coverage. Two more were replaced when they said they would not be able to be fair and impartial in light of Best’s status as an inmate at the time of the attack.
A Philadelphia native, Best was incarcerated at the prison earlier in 2013 for rape, sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse charges stemming from a 1999 incident. While juries are usually not permitted to know a defendant’s criminal history, because it could prejudice their decisions, the nature of the crime in question makes that impossible.
One jury candidate survived several challenges, admitting that she knew members of law enforcement, and that her husband was an employee of Rockview’s maintenance department. She said she had heard about the case in the media, and that she had heard about it from those who worked at the prison. On each individual question, she said that she believed she could be impartial. After all of the challenge questions from both Boob and Public Defender Deborah Lux, however, she finally said she couldn’t separate all of the issues.
The pool was narrowed to 19 men and 11 women. In another courtroom, with the pool filling the jury box and audience seats, the attorneys and court personnel pored over the lists almost silently, handed cards to some candidates and dismissed a handful of others. The final makeup of the jury was not clear. Boob declined to comment.
President Judge Thomas King Kistler said that the trial, originally planned for two days, is slated for just one, May 20.