Jury selection begins in Strafford County's Trial of the Decade

Harrison Thorp 6:56 a.m.

Jury selection begins in Strafford County's Trial of the Decade

Defendant Timothy Verrill stands in court yesterday during the first day of jury selection in his double-murder trial. (Rochester Voice photo)

DOVER - What could well be Strafford County's trial of the decade began on Tuesday inside Courtroom 2 of Strafford County Superior Court with more than100 potential jurors pouring into Courtroom 2 in morning and afternoon sessions to begin the vetting process that will ultimately whittle them down to a jury of 12 and two alternates.

The defendant in the case, Timothy Verrill, 37, of Dover, is accused of bludgeoning and stabbing to death Christine Sullivan, 48, of Farmington; and fatally stabbing her friend, Jenna Pellegrini, 32, of Barrington on Jan. 27, 2017.

The 6' 2" Verrill, wearing a long-sleeved, gray plaid sportshirt, khakis, and closer to the 280 pounds he was listed at in the original complaint than in the recent past, appeared in good spirits alongside his defense team of attorneys Meredith Lugo and Julia Nye.

As presiding judge Steven M. Houran introduced potential jury members in the gallery to Verrill, his defense team and state prosecutors Geoffrey Ward, Peter Hinckley and Jesse O'Neill, Verrill leant forward, waved and grinned sheepishly.

In pretrial hearings on bail and other matters, Verrill, who has remained in custody since his arrest in February 2017, had remained in jail garb and shackles.

The jury pool is expected to be whittled down in the next 10 days, with an anticipated start to the monthlong trial to begin on Oct. 11.

Some of the disqualifying items for potential jury members are if they were ever involved in personal dealings with any of the trial lawyers or potential witnesses.

Defense and prosecution lawyers can also request a limited number of potential jurors be excused on other grounds such as perceived bias.

Houran advised the jury pool not to read media accounts of the case, discuss the case with anyone or read resource material until they are excused as jurors.

Meanwhile, one of the star witnesses in the case, the Farmington man whose home was the site of the double homicide, Dean Smoronk, 57, is facing at least five years in federal prison for drug trafficking when he is sentenced in December in federal court in Concord.

Smoronk, who was in Florida at his second home in Cape Coral at the time of the killings, has been named as a potential witness for both the prosecution and the defense in the upcoming trial.

During a bail hearing two years ago, State Police Sgt. Brian Strong testified that Verrill went to Smoronk's house allegedly to get drugs around 11 p.m. on Jan. 26, 2017, and that a friend of Verrill's told police that when he got to the friend's Farmington home early Jan. 27, Verrill said he thought Pellegrini was an informant.

Smoronk told investigators Sullivan, his longtime girlfriend, contacted him that Verrill had returned to the house about 2 a.m. Friday, with phone records showing Smoronk and Sullivan were on the phone around that time, Strong noted.

A video recording device installed at the house showed images of Verrill in a flannel shirt and hat with a mesh back. Another camera shows images of Sullivan at 3:34 a.m.
Another video image of Pellegrini was recorded at 6:38 a.m., testimony noted.
An image also shows Verrill leaving the house nine minutes later holding his shoes, Strong said.

Strong said that when Verrill returned to his friend's home later Friday morning, he wasn't wearing either the flannel shirt or hat. Verrill allegedly asked his friend for a pair of pants to change into and had three to four shots of Jameson Irish whiskey.
Receipts and video surveillance shows Verrill going to Lowe's and Walmart in Rochester later in the day to buy salt and ammonia cleaner, evidence of which was found at the scene, Strong said.

Verrill was arrested in Lawrence, Mass., on Feb. 6, 2017 while seeking treatment at a medical facility.

Evidence in what prosecutors characterize as a "complex" case is expected to include thousands of pages of documents as well as dozens of CDs containing audio recordings and photographs, even an Alexa voice assistant. The case summary alone is 37 pages.

If Verrill is found guilty of first degree murder he could face life in prison without parole.

He has also been charged with alternative counts of first-degree murder, second-degree murder (knowing), and second-degree murder (reckless) as well as five counts of falsifying physical evidence.

Scores of civilians, including many local residents have also been named as potential witnesses as well as dozens of state and local police officers and expert witnesses from as far away as Georgia and Virginia.

DNA experts are expected to be among the mix with recent motions by defense and prosecution attorneys over alleged DNA sampling from Sullivan and Verrill said to be present on a hat.

Houran said he expect many of the witnesses listed by the defense and prosecution will not be called.

Much of the evidence to be presented during trial remains sealed.