‘Sea’ of supporters for slain corrections officer questioned for murder trial

A judge expressed reservations Tuesday about a “sea” of uniformed supporters packing the courtroom for the murder trial of two city men accused of fatally shooting a Mercer County corrections officer in 2011.

Carl Batie

Carl Batie

A large contingent of family, friends and colleagues of slain corrections officer Carl Batie are expected to attend different stages of the trial of Maurice Skillman and Hykeem Tucker, who are charged with Batie’s murder.

The off-duty corrections officer was shot in the head Nov. 11, 2011 at the Baldassari Regency banquet hall in Chambersburg while he was attending a re-election party for President Barack Obama.

He was not the intended target and was struck in a random hail of gunfire. For that reason, prosecutors are barred from mentioning his occupation in their opening and closing remarks to jurors, although Batie’s brother is expected to testify that his brother was a corrections officer.

Defense attorneys for the men said if there is a large swath of uniformed officers from the Department of Corrections, it could leave jurors with the impression Batie was targeted because he was a corrections officer.

“We don’t want that illusion,” said Nicole Carlo, an attorney for Skillman, the twin brother of oft-arrested Marquis. He was recently arrested on gun charges, is on the witness list and could be called to testify.

Superior Court Judge Andrew Smithson said if the courtroom is filled with uniformed corrections officers, it could have an “intimidating effect” on jurors.

He instructed Assistant Prosecutor James Scott to advise Batie’s family supporters should avoid wearing work garb to the trial.

The fact that some may attend in their uniforms seems unavoidable, and the judge can do little if that is the case since the courtroom is open to the public.

The trial started this week following a monthlong delay caused because prosecutors were late turning over hundreds of pages of documents related to the case.

Jury selection picks up this afternoon and could last several days.

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