YORK, Pa. -- Jury selection has wrapped up in the trial for a York County Businessman accused of trying to arrange two murder-for-hire plots from York County Prison. Gregory Hess sat in the courtroom Tuesday and watched closely as Prosecutor Tim Barker and his defense attorney questioned a group of more than 40 potential jurors. Eight women and six men were chosen to fill the 12 juror roles, plus two alternates.
Jurors were asked about past crimes they had been convicted of, if they knew anyone associated with the case, and if they had any close relationships that would prevent them from being fair and impartial. The defense asked potential jurors if they would assume Hess was guilty if he chose not to take the stand. "You must realize it is not his burden to prove his innocence, the Commonwealth has the burden to prove his guilt," said Suzanne Smith, Hess's defense attorney. Smith also questioned individual jurors who had close personal connections with law enforcement, including one who had been a mentor to one of the officers involved in the case.
The selection was done using individual voir dire, which is done to determine if a potential juror is biased, knows anyone involved in the case, or should otherwise be excluded. The selection process was chosen because of the amount of publicity the case has received.
A jury already acquitted Hess for a separate alleged murder for hire plot. Police accused Hess of trying to hire a man, Calvin Jones Jr., to kill his estranged wife's boyfriend. Jones was already an informant working for the York County Drug Task Force, so he told police about the proposition. Jones then worked with police to make Hess believe the murder was carried out. Police faked the killing and had Jones show a picture to Hess to make him believe it had occurred. Police said Hess then paid Jones just under $2,000, at which point they arrested him.
Defense Attorney Farley Holt argued during the May trial that Hess hired Jones to beat up the man, not kill him. The jury believed the defense and found Hess not guilty.
This trial involves two more plots Hess allegedly tried to arrange while in prison for the first. Police said Hess hired an inmate to kill the original hit man, Jones, and then a second inmate to kill the first, who police said had told on Hess.
During one of Hess's court hearings, police said his son Toby Hess used his cell phone to take a picture of Calvin Jones, Jr. Police believed Hess planned to give an inmate the picture so he could kill Jones for $15,000. Police said the inmate instead reported everything to police. Toby Hess and Gregory Hess were charged for the alleged second plot. A second inmate, was then charged police said for accepting money to kill the first inmate, after he went to the authorities.
Hess is facing two counts of criminal solicitation to commit murder, criminal conspiracy, and criminal use of a communication facility. He is the owner of Keystone Restoration in York County.