A final pretrial hearing took place Tuesday for 19-year-old Gabe McDonald who is scheduled for a jury trial next month in the shooting deaths of his parents.
Gabe McDonald and his adopted sister, 23-year-old Grace McDonald are both facing a capital murder charge of multiple persons in connection to the shooting of Gregg and Jana McDonald on March 2, 2016, in their Conley Avenue home. Gabe McDonald is accused of pulling the trigger.
His adopted sister was also charged with criminal conspiracy and prohibited sexual conduct. She is accused of having sex with her adoptive brother.
Gabe’s trial is set for 9 a.m. June 11 in District Judge James Rush’s courtroom. Defense attorney Justin Low said Tuesday they would likely need a larger jury panel than usual due to the amount of media coverage surrounding the cases.
“Most jury panels are about 70 people — that won’t work,” he said. “We’re going to need a significantly larger number.”
Assistant Attorney General Geoff Barr told the judge he agreed. Barr took over prosecution of the case after District Attorney Bobby Bland recused his office from both cases in December. Former Deputy District Attorney Chris Fostel is serving as Low’s co-counsel.
Low was previously working with Bland on a plea agreement that would involve Gabe testifying against his sister, and although nothing was official, when new prosecution took over it fell through. Low said Tuesday the AG’s office offered a new plea agreement over a month ago, but it was rejected.
“The offer was different regarding the amount of time to be served,” he said, adding that he could not go into specifics about it.
Low said he also had some reservations about whether or not Gabe McDonald was competent to stand trial, but conceded to the two experts’ opinions on the matter.
“My doctor had initially said he was not competent, but that (he) could become competent. According to my doctor, he has become competent enough. In other words, he’s learned the system,” Low said. “Yes, I still have reservations, but I’m not the expert and I’m not gonna become a witness so I’m gonna go with what the doctors have said and that is that he’s competent.”
The two attorneys also agreed on a motion filed Tuesday by Barr to disclose grand jury testimony.
“It allows us to review some prior testimony of witnesses, which was done at a previous date. It will allow both sides to have access to that court reporter record so that we can use it for trial and to prepare for trial,” Low said.
The motion requested the state to disclose the grand jury testimony from four witnesses: Grace McDonald; Monte Wootten, the McDonalds’ maternal grandfather; Karen Hargrove, the siblings’ maternal aunt; and Lela Paul (formerly Williams), the court document states.
Grace McDonald has a pretrial hearing set for 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Rush’s courtroom. A jury trial date of June 25 was set, but a motion for continuance was filed May 2 after Barr and defense attorneys Steven Brand and Thomas Fagerberg expressed concern during a status conference that the two siblings’ trial dates were too close together.
The defense attorneys also discussed looking into sending Grace to a treatment center after she was rearrested. During a January hearing, Barr said Grace McDonald had previously injured herself, but defense attorneys did not specify what kind of treatment center they would be looking into.
Grace McDonald had been bonded out of jail for about two months before being rearrested for violating the bond condition of changing her designated residence without written permission from the court. As of Tuesday afternoon, court records did not show any motions had been filed related to sending her to a treatment center.