A Flathead County District Court judge this week denied a 37-year-old convicted murderer’s request for a new trial, ruling against a defense team that argued the jury pool in the case was improperly drawn — a problem that has recently beset other criminal cases headed for trial across the state.
On July 13, a Flathead County jury convicted Jonathan Douglas Shaw of a felony count of deliberate homicide and a second felony count of attempted deliberate homicide for fatally shooting the former manager of Fuel Fitness and Nutrition, Matthew Hurley, and for injuring gym patron William Keck. The shooting occurred in 2021.
The request filed in September by Shaw’s Missoula-based attorneys Colin Stephens and Paul Simon cited a “structural error” in jury pool selection because Flathead County officials did not follow up with prospective jurors who did not respond to notices. Specifically, they said Clerk of Court Peg Allison failed to report and certify the names of those individuals to the sheriff’s office, whose deputies are then required to personally serve potential jurors — a resource-intensive onus for which the Flathead County sheriff has said his office doesn’t have time.
But Flathead County District Judge Dan Wilson wrote in his ruling that the clerk’s failure to report and certify the names of those individuals was merely a technical blunder and that Shaw’s defense counsel failed to show it amounted to “anything but harmless error, and [Shaw] has not shown that he was prejudiced.”
In Judge Wilson’s ruling, he concluded that although Allison did not follow proper protocol, it does not constitute a “structural error,” but instead is “merely a technical violation.”
The ruling comes after Shaw’s attorneys discovered an error in the jury pool selection process, in which Flathead County officials did not follow up with individuals who ignored jury notices. Instead, those who failed to respond to the notices were removed from the pool, which Stephens and Simon argued was a violation of the right to a fair and impartial jury.
According to Montana code, the clerk was required to certify a list of individuals who failed to respond to submit to the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.
In the motion for a new trial filed in September, Stephens and Simon cited information from the Flathead County Clerk of Court. It stated that during a recent criminal jury term, 7,000 jury notices were sent out to Flathead County residents, 1,500 of which were returned as undeliverable combined with a “few hundred” individuals who did not respond.
“When the Clerk randomly pulled the names of the 100 jurors for the Jury List for the Court’s [upcoming] criminal jury term, it did not include any individual who and been sent a notice and failed to respond,” the motion states.
In a supplemental motion filed on Nov. 1, Stephens and Simon compared the jury notices to “ballots for an election.”
“These ‘peers’ were summarily eliminated,” the motion states. “A trial jury cannot be made up of just people who ‘want’ to serve. It must be a cross-section of the citizenry, including those burdened by the effort.”
Following Judge Wilson’s ruling, Shaw’s sentencing hearing was scheduled for Nov. 30 at 1:30 p.m. He faces a maximum term of life in prison.
Judge Wilson’s ruling comes amid a statewide issue with the jury pool selection process, which has interrupted court proceedings in Cascade, Yellowstone and Lake counties.
Late last month, Chief Justice Mike McGrath ruled that a defendant’s rights in a separate Flathead County homicide case involving problems with the jury pool had not been undermined.
In that case, as in Shaw’s, attorneys representing Steven Justin Hedrick, a 33-year-old Whitefish man preparing to stand trial for deliberate homicide, argued that the clerk of court did not follow proper protocol when she failed to follow up with residents who don’t respond to their jury notices. The attorneys petitioned the Montana Supreme Court for a writ of supervisory control, asking the high court to intervene in the case and determine the next steps.
However, the Flathead County District Court submitted a summary response to McGrath explaining that it had provided a certified list of individuals who had not responded to the previous jury notices to the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office “and the Sheriff’s Office will personally serve these individuals,” according to the jurist’s order, which declared the matter “resolved.”
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