First-degree murder suspect Robert Penny’s trial is set to begin Monday, and after a brief hearing Thursday in Baxter County Circuit Court, the trial will feature an unusual jury selection process for the 61-year-old man.
Penny is accused of the Dec. 5, 2017, shooting death of his landlord, Chester Raymond Hornowski. Authorities say Penny shot the 71-year-old Hornowski 22 times over a noise complaint.
Penny’s attorney Sam Pasthing informed Circuit Court Judge Gordon Webb that the defense and the prosecution had come to an agreement about how prospective jurors should be questioned, a process called voir dire.
Pasthing said the agreement called for the 100-plus jury pool to be held in one courtroom as the attorneys questioned a set of 12 potential jurors in another nearby courtroom.
Then, a second set of 12 jurors will be called in to be questioned and so on until a jury has been selected. In court on Thursday, judicial personnel noted that the jury pool would need to be together initially in order for the judge to give them preliminary instructions.
Previous coverage: Murder suspect to claim self defense
The other issue brought before the judge Thursday was that of autopsy photographs. While the state has more than 100 photographs taken during the autopsy, prosecutors have agreed to show less than 20 and, according to 14th Judicial District Attorney David Ethredge, more likely around a dozen photos will be presented to jurors.
The trial is expected to last four days. Penny is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated assault and two counts of second-degree felony criminal mischief. He faces a potential sentence of life in prison on the first-degree murder charge.
On the morning of Hornowski’s killing, Penny allegedly spoke to another resident of a boarding house on the Old Military Road property. Penny allegedly confronted the man about noise that disturbed him.
The man informed the property owner of Penny’s complaint and a meeting was called of the residents. When the man was walking towards the area of the meeting, he reportedly heard multiple gunshots.
The man encountered Penny walking out of a room, and Penny reportedly said to the man “Yeah he’s dead, you want some of this too?” according to the affidavit.
The man tried to flee but slipped, fell and struck his head on a table. He got up, ran to his room and called 911. According to the affidavit, gunfire can be heard in the background of that 911 call, four shots in all.
Related: Penny murder trial sees motion to prohibit showing photos of victim
As deputies raced to the scene along with Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery, they were joined by troopers from the Arkansas State Police, personnel from the Mountain Home Fire Department, two ambulances, the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, members of the 14th Judicial District Drug Task Force and eventually the Baxter County Coroner’s Office.
Following the shooting, Penny allegedly left the residence, got into a truck and attempted to flee the scene. At least two law enforcement officers opened fire on Penny’s truck. Penny crashed into Montgomery’s SUV and was taken into custody.
He was taken by ambulance to Baxter Regional Medical Center, where he was treated for injuries suffered during the crash. He was later released to law enforcement officers, who transported him to the Baxter County jail.
Penny reportedly told investigators Hornowski punched him three times in the chest. Investigators said Penny showed them where he was struck and they reported in the affidavit they could not see any marks on Penny from the alleged assault.
Penny then reportedly told investigators he went to his room and retrieved his pistol. Investigators noted in the affidavit that Hornowski’s bedroom could be locked and that it had an exit that would have allowed him to flee.
Instead of fleeing or calling 911 for help, Penny told investigators he left his room and went back to where Hornowski was, according to the affidavit.
Then, Penny alleges Hornowski made a gesture like he was going to hit him again, so Penny pointed the pistol at Hornowski’s center mass and fired 18 shots at the 71-year-old man.
Penny says he then went back to his room, reloaded the pistol and shot Hornowski’s motionless body four more times because Hornowski had “ruined his life.”
More coverage: Defense wants mental evaluation in murder case
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