The criminal trial of Ben Trane began Tuesday morning with a standing-room only crowd of roughly 85 potential jurors in the second floor courtroom in the South Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk. At the end of the day, the selection process was not complete and the jury pool was significantly smaller.
Trane is the former owner of Midwest Academy, a boarding school in Lee County that closed in 2016 following a raid by multiple local, state and federal agencies amid allegations of sexual abuse. He's accused of child and sexual abuse from his time in charge of the school, charges that he continues to deny.
The jury selection process began Tuesday morning with the court attendant reading aloud 28 names randomly selected from the list of potential jurors. Those people moved from the benches in the back of the courtroom to several rows of chairs next to the attorneys.
The final jury of 12 people and 2 alternates will be selected from the group of 28.
From there, Iowa Asst. AG Denise Timmins asked the group a series of questions to gauge any connections to the school, to Trane, and to former Midwest Academy employees.
That line of questioning eliminated 13 people within the first 90 minutes, including one former employee, several people who had family members working at the school before it closed and even a man who said his son's ex-girlfriend worked at the school.
Following a 15-minute break, Tuesday morning, the questioning of potential jurors moved behind closed doors.
Each member of the group of 28 potential jurors was called into the judge's chamber to be interviewed by Timmins, defense attorney Lisa Schaefer, and District Court Judge Mark Kruse, who is presiding over the case. The interviews took place in private to allow for a further examination of potential connections to the case and to address issues such as sexual abuse and child abuse that could likely come up during testimony.
The private meetings took about four hours to complete.
They resulted in about two dozen more dismissals and an intact group of 28 potential jurors to begin the actual selection process. There are only about 15 remaining in the jury pool if anyone from the group of 28 needs to be dismissed.
The prosecution expressed concerns about community connections to the school, its employees and Trane in its request for a change of venue. A different judge denied the request.
Jury selection will resume at 9:00 Wednesday morning. The trial is expected to last six days.