Judge suspends jury service in Bexar County due to coronavirus surge

Trials that have already begun can continue, according to order

Judge Ron Rangel is presiding over the murder trial of Otis McKane, who is charged with killing San Antonio Police Detective Benjamin Marconi in November 2016. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
Judge Ron Rangel is presiding over the murder trial of Otis McKane, who is charged with killing San Antonio Police Detective Benjamin Marconi in November 2016. The trial is expected to last about two weeks. (KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – As COVID-19 infections surge in Bexar County, the judge who oversees how the courthouse runs has suspended jury service, according to an order signed on Wednesday.

The order was signed by 379th District Court Judge Ron Rangel, the Local Administrative Judge for Bexar County courts. Jury trials that have already started, like the trial of Otis McKane, may continue until a verdict is reached.

Rangel said he made the decision “after careful deliberation and consultation with the local health authority.”

Bexar County officials reported a seven-day average of 1,146 new COVID-19 cases a day, a 58% increase from the number reported last week which was 724. Hospitalizations rose 32%, from 695 reported on Thursday to 920 reported on Tuesday.

“This measure is taken in an effort to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 and to ensure the health and safety of all courtroom participants and visitors entering Bexar County Courts,” Rangel wrote.

The court’s mask mandate also remains in effect, Rangel wrote. The mandate does not violate Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order due to a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court.

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales issued the following statement:

“While we had hoped the return of jurors on June 1, 2021, would be a beginning of more normal court operations, we understand Judge Ron Rangel’s order to suspend jury service. We do not want a simple act of public service to put anyone’s health in jeopardy. Now is the time for all of us to do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Until this potentially deadly virus is behind us, restrictions like this will lead to a further delay of justice for both victims and those accused of crimes. The backlog of pending cases will grow, but as we did beginning in March 2020, our staff will continue to review and work on cases as best we can either in-person or through virtual hearings. As I’ve said before, while most of our cases are resolved by plea agreement, a jury panel waiting outside the court is sometimes what it takes to make that happen. We will do all within our power to continue to bring justice to victims of crime as quickly as circumstances allow.”

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About the Authors:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with more than 12 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter.