Jury seated in homicide trial

LOCK HAVEN — They have a jury.

That news from Clinton County court officials came just minutes after 5 p.m. Wednesday, when the final juror was named to hear the case of Lloyd Groves as prosecutors try to prove he killed Kathy Heckel nearly 30 years ago.

As the announcement quickly spread through the courthouse, about 50 prospective jurors remaining for individual questioning in the large courtroom departed in quick fashion and made their way downstairs and out the front door.

Many were smiling, happy that this long day was over and they could go home

Others expressed relief they had not been selected to decide Groves’ fate.

Heckel disappeared on July 15, 1991, and was never been seen nor heard from again. Her body has never been found.

However, four years ago after state police reopened the case and apparently found new evidence, a statewide investigative grand jury ruled there was enough to charge Groves with her killing her.

Groves was arrested on Jan. 20, 2015; he has been held at the Clinton County Correctional Facility ever since.

Although some thought selecting a jury would be a difficult due to the extensive publicity surrounding the cold case over the years, that wasn’t the case.

As a matter of fact, when asked about the case, a majority of prospective jurors insisted they knew nothing about it … or very little.

Eight jurors were picked Tuesday and eight more on Wednesday, making up the panel of 12 jurors and four alternates who will take their seats in the jury box when the trial begins at 9 a.m. Monday.

The jury is made up of eight men and eight women, all of whom were reminded by Senior Judge Kenneth Brown to not talk to anyone about the case until the trial is concluded.

“You can’t talk about the case. You can’t read any articles about the case. You must avoid all publicity,” he warned them.

“If someone knows you are on the jury and starts to talk to you about it, kindly tell them that the judge instructed you not to talk about it. You must be able to base your decision solely on the facts of the testimony heard during the trial,” the judge added.

Judge Brown also told jurors the trial will begin at 9 a.m. each day and conclude at about 5 p.m.

The schedule for the trial is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week, with Thanksgiving Day and Nov. 23 off, picking up again on Monday, Nov. 26, and continuing through that week.

It could end earlier or last longer, he said.

The jury will not be sequestered during the trial, the judge said.

“You will go home every night and resume your normal life and you can go home for lunch,” he said. “There is the possibility that you will be sequestered during (your) deliberations (toward a verdict), depending on our assessment of the publicity,” he warned.

“We’ll make that decision when the time comes.”

Jury selection had been scheduled for four days, through Friday this week.

More than 300 county residents were called to report, about 80 each day.

Court officials said they were very pleased with the jury selection taking only two days, rather than four.

Groves, 69, appeared in a suit and tie during jury selection, sitting quietly beside his attorneys — George E. Lepley Jr. of Williamsport, and David Lindsay of Lock Haven.

He leaned over and whispered to them periodically.

At the adjacent table, prosecutor Senior Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye and Kyle Moore of the Federal Bureau of Investigation were seated.

The two teams were cordial throughout the process, smiling and even laughing at times as they spoke to one another while waiting for another prospective juror to arrive to be interviewed.

Groves is charged with criminal homicide.

Heckel was 40 when she disappeared. Groves and Heckel were employed at the former Hammermill Paper Mill. The two were having an affair and Heckel wanted to break it off at the time of her disappearance, prosecutors allege.

Although Groves was considered a suspect in Heckel’s disappearance from the beginning, his arrest came 24 years later.