Jury selection continues in murder retrial

Jury selection will continue today in the retrial of a man accused of killing a Jonesboro woman and setting her house on fire to cover up the crime.

Timothy Alan Booth, 44, is charged with the Halloween 2007 death of Geneva Strickland, 68. Superior Court Judge Al Collier issued a gag order, Tuesday, but overruled the state's and defense's objections to a newspaper's digital camera in the courtroom.

Prosecutor Jason Green objected because his lay witnesses, mostly elderly neighbors of the victim, were concerned about having their photos published. Defense attorney Darrell B. Reynolds said he didn't like speaking to the media at all, and wanted the camera denied "out of an abundance of caution."

But Collier said he believed in balancing the public's right to know with the defendant's right to a fair trial, and granted the motion for the presence of the camera. However, he prohibited photos of lay witnesses.

Prosecutors later asked for a gag order during a sidebar with Collier and Reynolds. Collier granted the order, prohibiting the parties, witnesses and attorneys from speaking to the media until the jury reaches a verdict.

A Clayton County jury acquitted Booth, in February, of arson and aggravated assault charges. Collier declared a mistrial on murder and other felonies when jurors failed to reach a decision after more than two days of deliberating.

Police said Booth broke into Strickland's home to steal from her. They said he bound and gagged her with an Ace bandage before setting her house on fire. Booth was known to Strickland, as he'd done odd jobs around her house and fathered a child with her niece, police said.

Booth is confined to a wheelchair after an injury inside the Clayton County Jail. Officials said he either jumped or was pushed from an upper tier. He was being held at the Columbia Care Center in South Carolina pending his trial. The center specializes in housing inmates with physical or mental health-care issues.

Clayton County court records show that Booth's local criminal history dates back to at least 1985, when he was about 18. If Booth is convicted of murder, he faces a mandatory minimum life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Jury selection is to resume today at 9 a.m., with the questioning of a third panel, and is expected to continue at 10:30 a.m., with the questioning of a fourth.

Among the potential jurors is Alex Cohilas. Cohilas, who retired in December 2010, was Clayton County's fire chief at the time of Strickland's death. His department responded to the blaze, and some of Cohilas' former firefighters are expected to testify in the trial.