Dozens of potential jurors filled the courtroom seats at Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene Monday as the process of selecting a jury for the trial of Armando Barron on murder charges began.
Wearing a dark gray suit, Barron — who faces a slew of charges in the slaying of Jonathan Amerault of Keene in fall 2020 — watched quietly from behind a blue surgical mask. Throughout the week, the initial pool of 223 people will be whittled down to 16 — 12 who will compose the jury and four alternates — to determine the verdict in Barron’s case after a trial expected to last at least two weeks, according to instructions Judge Elizabeth Leonard provided potential jurors upon their arrival in court.
Barron, 32, is charged with first degree murder, which carries a maximum punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The state has also charged him with two counts of criminal solicitation of murder and two counts of criminal solicitation of first-degree assault that allege he told his wife, Britany Barron, to harm Amerault. Additionally, he faces charges of kidnapping, attempted murder, three counts of second-degree assault and four counts of domestic violence and reckless conduct. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
“The hallmark of the jury system is a decision by a jury of our peers to come to trial totally unbiased and with no preconceived ideas,” Leonard told the Cheshire County residents who filled the courtroom. “You are those peers.”
State troopers 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 worked as an engineer at a Jaffrey-based biomedical device manufacturing company, according to previous reporting by The Sentinel. He had just bought a home in Keene before his death.
Sloper wrote in the affidavit that 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, after he discovered she and Amerault were romantically involved.
Britany Barron said once at the park, her husband ordered her to shoot Amerault and, after she refused, shot and killed him himself, Sloper wrote. She also told police that just prior to this, her husband had severely assaulted her, leaving her with a pair of black eyes, a broken nose, and other injuries, according to the affidavit.
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 told her she needed to pack up, then detained her upon finding what appeared to be a body wrapped in a tarp, the affidavit states. She was arrested and Armando Barron, whom she said had returned to Jaffrey, was arrested shortly thereafter, Sloper wrote.
Britany Barron, 32, who pleaded guilty in Grafton County Superior Court in September to three counts of falsifying evidence, was granted parole last month. She is expected to testify during Armando Barron’s trial.
Judge Leonard on Monday asked potential jurors whether they had any qualms with the bedrock principles of the U.S. criminal justice system — including that a defendant is presumed innocent unless a jury determines the evidence presented by the state proves their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Leonard further asked the prospective jurors whether viewing violent images related to the case could elicit an emotional reaction that could impact their ability to presume the defendant innocent or if they have any relation to the parties, including a long list of witnesses. She noted the case involves allegations of domestic violence and asked potential jurors whether they have been involved with advocacy around such issues or had close personal experiences with them. The judge also noted that Armando Barron is of Hispanic heritage and asked potential jurors whether they have any prejudices against Hispanic people.
Those potential jurors who did not answer yes to any of the judge’s questions were appointed a time later in the week to return to the court voir dire questioning — where both parties’ lawyers will have about ten minutes to question each potential juror. Senior Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Agati and Assistant Attorney General Scott Chase are prosecuting the case on behalf of the state. Public defenders Meredith Lugo and Morgan Taggart-Hampton are representing Armando Barron.
Jurors who answered yes to any of the judge’s questions Monday approached the bench to discuss their individual circumstances and were either dismissed or appointed a time to return for voir dire questioning.
As of Tuesday morning, the pool had been narrowed down to 119 people, according to Tammy Jackson, a communications assistant for the New Hampshire Judicial Branch.
Unless circumstances change, the jury will not be sequestered — kept together in a private location away from their homes and workplaces — during the trial, which is set to begin next Monday, Leonard said. Those potential jurors who have not been dismissed should not consume any media coverage related to the case until they are released from jury duty, she said, adding that they also may not discuss the case with anyone, including family members or other jurors, until deliberations after all the evidence has been heard.
At the final pretrial hearing last month, Agati said the trial will begin with a “view” where jurors will be led along parts of the route the Barrons allegedly traveled the night Amerault was killed, including to Annett State Park and sections of Route 202 and Main Street in Jaffrey.
Screens will need to be set up in the courtroom during the trial due to the extensive visual media evidence, Agati said. Court records indicate that more than a dozen witnesses are expected to testify.