The trial of a Falmouth man accused of murdering his mother last year was postponed Monday after lawyers spent more than eight hours trying to select a jury from a pool of more than 100 people without success.
Jury selection for Andrew Leighton’s case had been scheduled to begin on his March 24 trial date in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court in Portland, but the selection process was conducted two weeks early to comply with new austerity measures imposed by the Maine Judicial Branch to cope with budget shortfalls.
Leighton, 47, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a single count of murder in the May 3, 2013, shooting death of his mother, Shirley Leighton of Falmouth.
“Because of the budget crisis, we received notification about 10 days ago that we were picking a jury today,” Leighton’s attorney, Robert LeBrasseur, said late Monday afternoon after leaving court.
LeBrasseur said that through the elimination process in which he and the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, tried to find suitable jurors, they exhausted a pool of 106 people without seating enough for a trial.
The next month that the Leighton trial could be held to meet LeBrasseur’s schedule, as well as Zainea’s and the court’s, would be October, the defense attorney said.
“It’s disappointing, but I’d rather get a fair and impartial jury,” LeBrasseur said, noting that seating a jury in cases involving mental health can be especially difficult.
Under the Judicial Branch order imposed last week, the state’s courts can convene only one jury pool per month for all criminal and civil trials until June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Jury pools must not exceed 100 potential jurors, and trials and jury deliberations cannot go beyond 4 p.m.
Jury selection dates were set for March 10, April 14, May 12 and June 9. The new jury rules do not apply to grand juries, which are convened to decide whether enough potential evidence exists to charge someone with a crime.
The Legislature is now weighing whether to pass a supplemental budget to fill funding shortfalls in many departments, including the Judicial Branch. The Judicial Branch is facing a shortfall of nearly $950,000 at the end of the fiscal year, according to testimony at the State House last week by Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
“In a branch as small as the Judicial Branch, which must provide constitutionally mandated services statewide, and without delay, these cuts (to address the shortfall) are devastating,” Lynch said in a written version of that testimony.
Leighton is accused of shooting his mother just before she and his father, Thomas Leighton, were about to have him committed for mental health treatment. Leighton lived with them at their 19 Edgewater Road home in Falmouth for about six years after a divorce, according to court records.
His father had left to take the dog for a walk before bringing Leighton to a psychiatric facility, Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook, and when he returned, Leighton told him he had shot his mother, the records show.
Leighton and his father initially struggled over a gun, a .40-caliber Baby Eagle, and his father ultimately escaped by running away. Leighton was arrested after a five-hour standoff with police.
The trial is expected to take three to four days.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: