Amid the ongoing jury selection for the murder trial of Jaffrey resident Armando Barron, the first potential juror questioned Tuesday broke down in tears as she entered the courtroom.
While Judge Elizabeth Leonard dismissed the woman — who said she couldn’t sleep the previous night after thinking about the things she would have to see during the trial — at least six people were appointed to the jury throughout the day at Cheshire County Superior Court.
State prosecutors have accused Barron, 32, of murdering Keene resident Jonathan Amerault in fall 2020, after discovering Amerault and his wife, Britany Barron, were romantically involved. His trial on a first-degree murder charge — as well as solicitation of murder, solicitation of first-degree assault and domestic-violence charges alleging he assaulted his wife and told her to harm Amerault — is expected to begin Monday.
After the first day of jury selection narrowed the initial pool from 223 Cheshire County residents to 119, prosecuting and defense attorneys on Tuesday individually questioned about 25 people. The remaining potential jurors will be questioned throughout the week, until 16 people — 12 who will compose the jury and four alternates — have been selected.
Law-enforcement officers discovered Amerault’s body in an unincorporated area of Coos County, a day after he had been reported missing on Sept. 21, 2020, according to an affidavit written by N.H. State Police Sgt. Stephen Sloper.
An avid hiker, Amerault, 25, volunteered regularly at the Souhegan Valley Boys and Girls Club in Milford, where he grew up, and was an engineer at a Jaffrey-based biomedical device manufacturing company where Britany Barron also worked, according to previous reporting by The Sentinel. He had just bought a home in Keene before his death.
Britany Barron told law enforcement her husband used her cellphone to lure Amerault to Annett State Park in Rindge sometime overnight on Sept. 19 and Sept. 20, 2020, Sloper wrote in the affidavit.
According to the affidavit, Britany Barron said her husband severely assaulted her — leaving her with a pair of black eyes, a broken nose and other injuries — just before they arrived at the park, where he ordered her to shoot Amerault and, after she refused, shot and killed him himself.
Britany Barron said she and her husband then took Amerault’s vehicle and their own north to Coos County, where they made camp and attempted to dispose of the evidence, Sloper wrote in the affidavit. She said she followed orders from her husband — with whom she has three young children — to remove Amerault’s head and conceal his body and his vehicle, the affidavit states.
Hunters later discovered Britany Barron at her camp and called N.H. Fish and Game, who detained her upon finding what appeared to be a body wrapped in a tarp, the affidavit states. She was arrested, and Armando Barron, who she said had returned to Jaffrey, was arrested shortly thereafter, Sloper wrote.
Britany Barron, 32, pleaded guilty in Grafton County Superior Court in September to three counts of falsifying evidence, and was granted parole last month. She is expected to testify during Armando Barron’s trial.
Throughout Tuesday morning, the prosecuting attorneys, Senior Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Agati and Assistant Attorney General Scott Chase, probed potential jurors’ experiences and feelings about domestic violence.
“Do you think there is a difference between being assaulted by a loved one versus being assaulted by a stranger?” Chase asked one potential juror, while posing similar questions to several others.
The state prosecutors had potential jurors answer questions about whether someone who is assaulted could still love their abuser, whether an abuser might manipulate their spouse’s conflicted feelings and how having children with the abuser might affect that dynamic.
At one point, Chase asked whether the mixed emotions of a person who has experienced domestic abuse could cause that person to “cover up” for their spouse. The prosecuting attorneys also noted several times that jurors will be asked to consider “gruesome” and “graphic” photo evidence during the trial.
Meanwhile, public defenders Meredith Lugo and Morgan Taggard-Hampton — who are representing Armando Barron — focused their questions around the legal principle of reasonable doubt. For a defendant to be found guilty, the defense attorneys said, the jury must find that the state has presented evidence proving its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“What does ‘reasonable doubt’ mean to you?” Lugo asked one potential juror.
She then asked the man what the correct verdict would be if he thought someone is probably guilty but he still had a reasonable doubt after all the evidence had been presented.
The defense attorneys also several times asked potential jurors whether they believed police could charge the wrong person with a crime even after a large amount of work went into constructing the case. Taggard-Hampton and Lugo further questioned potential jurors on whether they would infer guilt based on a defendant declining to testify in his own case or the defense not presenting witnesses.
Unless circumstances change, the jury will not be sequestered — kept together in a private location away from their homes and workplaces — during the trial, Judge Leonard said Monday.
The trial — which Leonard said will last at least two weeks — is expected to begin with a “view,” where jurors will be led along parts of the route that prosecutors allege the Barrons traveled the night Amerault was killed, including to Annett State Park and sections of Route 202 and Main Street in Jaffrey.
Due to extensive visual media evidence, screens will be set up in the courtroom during the trial. Court records indicate that more than a dozen witnesses are expected to testify.