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Kent County awaits resumption of jury trials, including 44 murder cases

The pandemic has put many in-person court activities on hold, but safeguards are in place once Kent County gets a green light to resume jury trials.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — With Michigan surpassing the 55% COVID-19 vaccination rate, there is optimism that restrictions will be eased, including a move toward normalcy in the criminal justice system.

It can’t come soon enough for Judge Mark A. Trusock, chief judge of Kent County Circuit Court.

“Right now, we have 44 defendants in the Kent County Jail charged with murders,’’ Trusock said. “And then there’s a plethora of other trials that aren’t as significant, but still important.’’

Defendants who have asked for jury trials are left waiting because the state has suspended many in-person activities due to the pandemic.

Certain benchmarks need to be reached before in-person activity, notably jury trials, can resume. Most notable is a drop in new coronavirus cases.

Courts in some three dozen Michigan counties, including Kent, are in Phase One, which is the most restrictive in terms of in-person activity.

As more people get vaccinated and new COVID-19 cases drop, counties will slowly resume in-person court activity.

Once Kent County gets the green light for jury trials, they will initially be held in a fifth-floor conference room that has been converted into a courtroom. Coronavirus safeguards are in place, Trusock said.

“When we get the green light to start, initially we’ll start with one trial a week and then we’ll progress from there,’’ Trusock said. “But it’s going to take a long time. And we have to proceed in a manner that’s safe.’’

Among those awaiting trial for murder is 29-year-old Jordan Loomis. He was arrested in December of 2019 for the murder of 51-year-old James Robertson of Grand Rapids. Police say Robertson was fatally stabbed. His body was found in Ottawa County.

Defense attorney Jeffrey T. Kortes says his client was supposed to go to trial in May of 2020. It didn’t happen. Loomis remains in the Kent County Jail; no new trial date has been set.

“Trial is our game time,’’ Kortes said. “It’s like we’re in a perpetual rain delay right now, and there’s no break in the clouds.’’

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