ASHLAND -- The jury trial for a Crestline man that drew national attention in the past few weeks is set to begin on Monday, June 29.
The jury selection process for Seth Whited, who is charged with child endangerment and three lesser felonies, will begin June 29 and continue June 30 with an extra, third round of prospects if needed.
Ashland County Common Pleas Court Judge Ron Forsthoefel, Ashland County Assistant Prosecutor Victor Perez and Whited's attorney Adam Stone agreed to the new date at a Tuesday meeting after Whited’s trial had already been postponed five times.
On Wednesday, May 6, Forsthoefel granted a motion to continue the trial to one of three proposed dates amid controversy about whether or not he should have attempted to begin the case a week earlier.
Forsthoefel’s continuance required the trial to be held on one of these dates: May 26, June 30 or July 21. He also requested a May 12 meeting to reschedule the trial and asked that all witnesses be contacted to determine conflicts with the new dates.
The only date without conflicts was June 30. An expert witness was unavailable in May, and both Perez and the victim were unavailable in July.
“You may see another change to the courtroom by then because we’re going more than a month out. We will have most likely some acrylic dividers at council tables, so you won’t have to separate yourself four feet from your client,” Judge Forsthoefel said at the Tuesday meeting. “You’ll be able to communicate with him verbally if you wish because of that divider.
“I can’t promise they’ll be there, but that’s what we’re working on.”
Forsthoefel set the plea deadline as June 15.
Whited, 26, is charged with a third-degree felony of endangering children, which relates to handling a small child in a cruel manner, and three fifth-degree felony counts of unauthorized use of a computer or telecommunications. Those charges accuse him of hacking into his former girlfriend’s work email account.
Whited’s trial began briefly in late April, but came to an abrupt halt. Whited was taken to the hospital following what the court described as a panic attack.
He was tested for COVID-19 at UH Samaritan Medical Center, and though the test came back negatively, he was ordered to quarantine for six days in case of a false negative, according to his attorney.
Earlier that week, Stone had also been asked to quarantine after learning he had interacted with a client who had tested positive for COVID-19. Both Stone and Whited were ordered by Judge Forsthoefel to enter the courtroom despite this, Stone said.
Jury selection began April 28, but Forsthoefel eventually postponed the trial. He initially reset the trial for Tuesday, May 12.
By the following Monday, Stone had filed another motion to continue the trial on behalf of his client, citing how COVID-19 concerns and restrictions could impede his client’s rights. Stone also filed a complaint for writ of prohibition with the Ohio Supreme Court, which ordered Forsthoefel to respond and then dismissed the case after the Ashland judge responded with the three proposed dates.
Stone did issue a memo to oppose the dismissal of the case, but the Ohio Supreme Court reached a decision on May 11.
“The goal of the complaint filed by relator, attorney Adam Stone, is to prevent respondent, Ashland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Ronald Forsthoefel, from jeopardizing the health, safety, and rights of Stone and anyone involved in the criminal case against Seth M. Whited by forcing a jury trial, which is not time sensitive, to move forward during the height of a pandemic,” the Ohio Supreme Court said in its announcement of the dismissal.
“The parties do not dispute that as of today, May 11, 2020, the trial has been continued and a new trial date has not yet been set.”
That date was in fact set for June 29 during Tuesday's court action.