Hamad trial starts amid protests

Juror pool of 173 trimmed by 35

Tribune Chronicle / Renee Fox Brandon Davis of Poland was among about a dozen people protesting outside the Trumbull County Courthouse Wednesday during jury selection in the capital murder trial of Nasser Hamad of Howland. He said as a father, he does not like the way Ohio’s self-defense law is written. Hamad’s attorneys plan to use a self-defense strategy, according to court filings.

WARREN — A pool of 173 potential jurors showed up Wednesday morning at the Trumbull County Courthouse for the start of the capital murder trial of a Howland man, and by the time the lunch hour was over, some 35 were dismissed for a variety of reasons.

Nasser Hamad, 48, dressed in a suit and tie, appeared in the courtroom of Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Ronald J. Rice as his attorneys and two assistant prosecutors began questioning potential jurors who wanted to be dismissed.

Outside the courthouse, about a dozen people carrying signs in support of the defendant were told by law enforcement to stay off the High Street side of Courthouse Square. They finally gathered on the northeast corner of High and North Park Avenue with some yelling “Free Nasser” at the passing traffic.

Hamad is being tried on two counts of aggravated murder charges that carry the death penalty and six counts of attempted aggravated murder. He is accused of shooting two people dead and wounding three others outside his state Route 46 home on Feb. 25.

Most of the potential jurors looking to be dismissed used financial hardships as an excuse, saying their jobs wouldn’t compensate them for jury duty. Some women cited child care or care of an elderly parent.

Jury selection will probably last through next week, Rice said, with the trial itself taking up to 10 days.

One man, juror No. 368, was dismissed after he told the court he was a Gulf War veteran and couldn’t be impartial because he didn’t like Arabs. The defendant is an Arab-American who was born here.

All told, 10 jurors were dismissed because of medical reasons, while two were excused because they came late.

The potential jurors still available filled out questionnaires that were reviewed by attorneys during the afternoon session. The jury selection will continue this afternoon with more individual questioning of the remaining members of the jury pool.

After the panel is seated, it is expected to tour the shooting scene off a commercial stretch of state Route 46 just south of the busy state Route 82 interchange. The case revolves around a confrontation between Hamad and occupants of a van that was driven up to his home late in the afternoon of Feb. 25. Hamad and several of the van’s occupants had engaged in taunting and threatening behavior over social media prior to the shootings, according to a Howland police report.

One of those carrying a sign was Hamad’s brother, Mike Hamad of Sandusky, who said he was protesting because of the injustice, citing the fault lied with some of those in the van.

“The prosecutors in this case picked and chose who to charge,” Mike Hamad said. “Here is a guy who was protecting his life getting charged with murder. There were four people who were beating on him.”

Sherrie Visnich of Warren said she was carrying a sign to repay her friend, Hamad.

“He helped me when times were bad and others wouldn’t. All of my other friends flew the coop,” Visnich said. “So I am here to show my support for him.”

Two Mahoning County men, Brandon Davis of Poland and James Carson of Austintown, said they were there protesting because they don’t like the way Ohio’s self-defense law is written.

“It is your job as a man to protect your family,” Carson said.

Davis said he doesn’t like the part of the law that says a homeowner has to retreat.

“I can’t retreat if my wife and kids are in trouble,” Davis said.

Although court officials are under a gag order in the case, a series of court filings show that defense attorneys at trial are expected to try to prove that Hamad suffered from a post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by “constant threats of death” over a six-month period.

However, assistant Trumbull County Prosecutors Christopher Becker and Michael A. Burnett paint a different picture of Hamad — someone who boasted to detectives after the shootings about successfully defending himself after he retrieved a 9 mm handgun inside his home and began firing at those in the van.

Killed in the shooting were Joshua Haber, 19, and Joshua Williams, 20. The three other gunshot victims were April Vokes, 43; John Shivley, 17; and Bryce Hendrickson, 20. Hendrickson, whose name was on a list of potential state witnesses, was found dead late last month of a possible drug overdose.