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Esch on trial in Custer County

Accused of murder in the first degree
Trenton Esch and his attorney break for lunch during jury selection process, Tuesday.
Trenton Esch and his attorney break for lunch during jury selection process, Tuesday.(Melanie Standiford)
Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 10:20 PM CDT
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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - It was standing room only in a Custer County District courtroom in Broken Bow Tuesday.

The prosecution and defense whittled their way through a long list of potential jurors for a murder trial for the shooting death of a Broken Bow woman. Almost 100 Custer County residents reported for jury duty, in the court’s hope of finding an impartial jury capable of considering only the facts of the case as presented in the trial against 45-year old Trenton Esch of Broken Bow. It’s a task that could prove difficult in a rural Nebraska town, one year after a beloved community member and business owner was shot near her home.

Court records, newspapers, television, and social media have shared the details over the course of the past year, revealing to the public a man being held without bond due to the probability that he did, likely, kill his own stepmother.

In Trenton Esch’s first court appearance in Custer County Court last year, it was argued that in Nebraska for the crime of murder, the bond can be denied, and it was.

Crystal Esch was 62-years old on the Saturday evening in July 2020 when she died, unexpectedly, and according to court records, in front of two children.

And that was one of the questions asked by the state, to jurors Tuesday in the selection process. The prosecution asked the group of 40 potential jurors if “putting the children on the stand to testify” would cause them to hold it against the prosecution or the defense, or if they would be able to look past the drama of putting them on the witness stand to obtain the facts only to make an informed decision about the death of Crystal Esch.

Potential jurors were narrowed down to 40 likely candidates after being asked several questions about their knowledge of the case against Trenton Esch, and whether or not they knew anyone directly involved in the case. Several potential jurors were excused between the start of the selection process at 9 a.m., and a recess for lunch at noon. Several potential candidates for jury duty met privately with Judge Karen Noakes to be asked specific questions about their knowledge of the case, or their relationships with the people involved.

Of the 40, both the prosecution and defense are allowed to “strike,” or remove their choice of 13 potential jurors, leaving a total of 14, of which 12 are jurors, and two are alternate jurors. The court settled on a jury of eight men, and six women.

The trial is expected to get underway Wednesday morning and last at least through Friday. Opening statements and witness testimonies are scheduled for 9 a.m.

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