Attorneys culling through potential jurors for retrial of confessed killer

Prosecutors call Mickelson "evil," defense says he's insane

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Attorneys continue sorting through potential jurors in preparation for the retrial of a confessed killer in Caddo District Court in Shreveport.

They are narrowing the pool to people who are willing to consider both possible sentences - the death penalty and life imprisonment - for Eric Dale Mickelson if the 46-year-old again is convicted of first-degree murder. The "death qualifying" phase of jury selection began Monday and is expected to continue through Wednesday, a court official said.

Then attorneys will set about picking jurors. A jury could be selected by Saturday, the official said.

Mickelson was sentenced to death in August 2011 after being convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the slaying of retired painting contractor Charles Martin. The 86-year-old is believed to have been strangled when Mickelson and a woman allegedly broke into his home. Martin's dismembered body was found scattered throughout Caddo Parish in 2007.

"It's just painful. You know my grandfather loved his family, loved his country. Most of all loved his Lord and savior Jesus Christ. And the guy that murdered him? He gets off on this. This is what he enjoys," said Martin Grau, Martin's grandson.

Grau said the overturning of the case has opened wounds that were just beginning to heal for the family.

"He enjoyed talking about how he cut him up into pieces and spread his body parts out across Caddo Parish, you know, he liked it. He relished in it," recalled Grau.

After being arrested, Mickelson confessed to killing Martin and to slaying Kristi O'Pry 11 years earlier. He was the last person seen with her before she disappeared in July 1996. Mickelson told detectives that he strangled O'Pry then disposed of her body in a pond on his Woolworth Road property. He later was charged with second-degree murder in that case.

Mickelson appealed his first-degree murder conviction, arguing that Caddo District Court failed to let his attorney exercise a peremptory challenge and excuse a prospective juror from the capital case because he would not consider intoxication as a mitigating factor during the sentencing phase of the trial.

Part of Mickelson's defense was that he was high on cocaine at the time of the slaying and that, under the law, intoxication "shall be considered" as a mitigating circumstance.

Caddo District Court Judge Scott Crichton denied the defense's request to bring Roy Johnson back for further questioning in order to challenge his inclusion as a juror, finding "no basis in my view for a cause challenge on Mr. Johnson, none." The judge also reminded counsel that it is "inappropriate to take one isolated out-of-context statement of one prospective juror and micro-dissect it to the point of reaching an absurd result."

Crichton went on to say that, based on Johnson's testimony and demeanor during the jury selection process, "I am convinced he would be extremely capable of being fair and impartial and neutral and would give [the defendant] a fair trial."

On appeal, the Louisiana Supreme Court sided with Mickelson's attorneys. It threw out his conviction and death sentence and ordered a new trial.

Johnson "stated several times that he could not consider alcohol or drug-induced intoxication as a mitigating circumstance in deciding the appropriate sentence, with his final words indicating he would impose the death penalty if drugs or alcohol fueled the crime," the state's highest court said in its majority opinion.

"When a prospective juror holding such an opinion is not excused for cause, and the defense exhausts its peremptory challenges, as occurred here, there is reversible error."

The Louisiana Supreme Court did not agree with Mickelson's claim that there was insufficient evidence of intent to kill Martin.

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