Selection of jury begins in retrial

Jury selection started Monday for Larry Bill Elliott’s second trial for capital murder.

Elliott, 53, of Hanover, Md., is charged with first-degree murder, capital murder, and two counts of use of a firearm. He was tried on those charges in July 2002, but the conviction was overturned after Elliott’s defense team brought evidence of juror misconduct to the court in September 2002.

Elliott, a former Army counter-intelligence specialist, is charged with the January 2001 murders of Dana Thrall, 25, and Robert Finch, 30. The Woodbridge couple was shot in their Rollingwood Village town house while Thrall’s two young sons were asleep upstairs.

Prosecutors argued at the original trial that Elliott shot Finch out of jealousy, believing him to be an obstacle to his relationship with Rebecca Gragg, an adult escort Elliott met on the Internet. Finch and Gragg were embroiled in a custody dispute over their two children. Prosecutors said in the original trial that Elliott’s obsession with Gragg led him to murder Finch, and Thrall walked in on the shooting.

Elliott’s original trial lasted nine days. Jurors deliberated three days before recommending the death penalty. That conviction was overturned and a new trial was ordered in September 2002. Defense attorneys discovered that one of the original jurors had discussed the trial with her husband, a patent attorney, as well as another attorney in the courthouse’s cafeteria during a lunch break in the trial.

“She said her husband was a patent attorney. Her husband told her if the defendant didn’t testify, he was guilty,” Fairfax attorney Kenneth Roger Weiner testified during the September hearing.

“Her actions single-handedly wiped out the work of 25 people. The verdict is hopelessly compromised,” Prince William Circuit Court Judge William D. Hamblen said Sept. 24, 2002, announcing his decision to overturn the conviction and schedule a retrial.

Monday, two panels of jurors were asked general biographical questions, and one panel was questioned about their views of the death penalty. Prosecutors asked if potential jurors had religious or philosophical beliefs opposing the death penalty. Defense attorney William Moffitt asked if the mere fact the case was a capital case made it more difficult for potential jurors to vote not guilty. Moffitt also asked if the fact that the murders included a beating made potential jurors unable to consider a sentence of life without parole.

Selection of the jury will continue today. The trial is expected to last about three weeks.

Staff writer Maria Hegstad can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.

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