Jury questioning takes over first day of Kent trial
Summit Daily News
Jurors will return to court tomorrow morning for selection
Following a slow first day in the courtroom Monday, Dec. 13, Colorado’s 5th Judicial Branch has not yet appointed a jury in the joint trial of Shannon and Staci Kent.
The Kents were arrested in February after officers with the Silverthorne Police Department discovered a badly decaying body that had been left in their Silverthorne funeral home for several months. The deceased was later identified by the Summit County Coroner’s Office as 42-year-old Victor Akubuo, who died in a car crash in Park County on July 30, 2020.
Shannon Kent was charged with felony counts of criminal attempt to commit tampering with a deceased human body, abuse of a corpse and violation of bail bond conditions. Staci Kent was charged with felony counts of criminal attempt to commit tampering with a deceased human body and abuse of a corpse. The Kents pleaded not guilty to all charges in May.
The violation of bail bond conditions charge against Shannon Kent stemmed from a previous arrest in Lake County, where the former Lake County Coroner was charged with official misconduct and perjury after he was indicted by a grand jury in September 2019 for having his wife serve as deputy coroner without being legally sworn in. He was found guilty of official misconduct in September but was acquitted of a perjury charge.
The first hour in the courtroom Monday was used to clear up miscommunication about evidence submitted for trial, while the rest of the day was spent in private reviewing questionnaires from potential jurors, as well as questioning them.
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Before any jurors were interviewed, John Scott, Shannon Kent’s attorney, said there are documents the prosecution submitted that are not relevant to the Summit County case, as they are focused on issues in Eagle and Lake counties. Scott said the defense was under the impression that the prosecution would not include certain evidence that was submitted at the start of the trial.
The document was related to an agreement with state regulators that Shannon Kent voluntarily signed in December, requiring him to permanently exit the funeral home and cremation businesses in Colorado.
Scott also said video footage the prosecution submitted contains audio that is not relevant to the case, including hearsay and officer opinions from body cam footage recordings. Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan said the only audio the prosecution plans to play goes with body cam footage from a search at the Kents’ Leadville home, where statements from both Shannon and Staci Kent can be heard.
Scott also said items on the amended exhibit list refer to photos and videos not related to underlying facts of the case.
Earlier this month, the prosecution and defense met for a pretrial readiness conference, where many times issues like these are sorted out prior to the start of the trial.
5th Judicial District Judge Terry Ruckriegle questioned why the defense waited until the day of trial to bring up these objections — they had the opportunity to do so at the pretrial conference and in the weeks leading up to the trial. Ruckriegle said this could have been worked out beforehand but instead caused a delay in Monday’s proceeding.
Ruckriegle said it’s a reasonable issue for the defense to bring to the court’s attention, and that he didn’t want to criticize the action, more so the timing and inaction prior to the start of trial. He said the issues brought up this morning could have been addressed fairly quickly had there been better communication.
Ruckriegle instructed both sides to submit a proposed redacted version of the document to the court that they would like to see used in the trial.
Before dismissing jurors for the evening, Ruckriegle thanked them for their patience as the court continued through the necessary steps of selecting a jury. He said it is important to explore every aspect of a trial that has complicated issues like this one.
Court will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14 at the Summit County Justice Center, when all jurors who were not excused are required to return.