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Opening arguments to begin in West trial

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Jury selection in the trial of a Poulan, Ga., man, accused of beating an Army reservist in front of her 7-year-old daughter, wrapped up on Tuesday, as the parties involved in the case prepared for the trial to get underway.

Troy Dale West, Jr., who is Caucasian, is facing charges of aggravated assault, battery, disorderly conduct, false imprisonment, and cruelty to children. The charges stem from a September 2009 attack on Tashawnea Hill, an African-American woman, in the foyer of the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Morrow.

Jury selection had been going on since Monday afternoon, but attorneys for both sides, and Clayton County Superior Court Judge Geronda V. Carter, all said the trial will get underway today.

When jury selection concluded, just before 5 p.m., on Tuesday, the pool of 84 potential jurors had been whittled down to a group of 14 people. Two people in that group will serve as alternates.

The case centers around accusations that West beat Hill, and yelled racial slurs at her, in the foyer of the restaurant. The attack allegedly happened after Hill told West that he nearly hit her daughter with the restaurant's door, as he was leaving the establishment, and she was entering it, according to a Morrow Police Department incident report.

West told police, at the time, that Hill spit on him before he allegedly attacked her. According to the police incident report, however, witnesses told police that Hill did not spit on West.

In addition to concluding jury selection, on Tuesday, Judge Carter upheld a previous, tentative, decision not to move the trial out of the county. West's attorney, Tony Axam, had filed a motion for a change of venue, arguing that pre-trial publicity would make it hard for his client to get a fair trial in Clayton County.

Carter had tentatively denied that request before jury selection took place on Monday.

On Tuesday, in a brief, mid-afternoon discussion on the matter, the judge revisited the issue, and heard arguments from both sides. Axam conceded that he could not make a persuasive argument for moving the trial out of Clayton County.

District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson then argued that media coverage had not tainted the jury pool. "There is no evidence that this jury has been influenced by the media coverage of this case," she said.