Phillip Figures’ first-degree murder trial hasn’t exactly gotten off to the start he wanted.
Wednesday, the 39-year-old Omaha man watched his former wife testify for six hours about his purported confession to his involvement in the July 2018 slaying of Frederick Green, a 57-year-old Omahan who had just been released on parole.
Wednesday evening, one of Figures’ supporters — perhaps a family member — followed a juror through the first-floor walkway of the Douglas County Courthouse, chatting her up near a snack stand.
Thursday morning, the female juror didn’t disclose the interaction to court staff, as jurors are instructed to do. Another woman informed authorities that she saw the two speaking.
Douglas County District Judge Thomas Otepka didn’t take kindly to the interaction — or to the juror’s inattention to court rules.
Attorneys questioned the young woman about the contact. She initially said it didn’t happen, then corrected herself and said that the man did approach her but that she believed he was flirting with her.
By late Thursday afternoon, Otepka dismissed the juror, effectively replacing her with an alternate.
In most murder cases, Douglas County juries are made up of 12 jurors and two alternates. That gives judges some wiggle room to dismiss a juror or two if they have violated court rules.
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Figures was incredulous at the judge’s decision to remove the woman from the jury panel.
After the juror was dismissed, Figures stood up, shot a look of disgust at court personnel and walked toward a door that leads to a back area of the courthouse.
The defendant ambled slowly, as if waiting for someone to stop or subdue him. No one did. Two reasons why: First, he was headed toward a secure area — and had a stun belt on, with deputies close behind. Second, under case law, a defendant is not required to be present for their trial.
Figures returned to court Friday for the trial’s resumption. His attorneys, J. Robert Black and Brendan Kelly, have questioned the wife’s motives in testifying against her ex-husband. They also have argued that nothing places Figures at the scene of Green’s homicide, near 35th Street and Newport Avenue.
From Figures’ vantage point, the case wasn’t expected to get much easier: Prosecutors told jurors in opening statements that they have photos of Figures dumping clothes — the same clothes he allegedly wore to commit the killing — in a garbage can near a car wash by his house. They also have a gold necklace, with a gold ring and crucifix attached, which Figures’ wife said he stole from Green.
Prosecutors Beth Beninato and Brenda Beadle displayed a photo of Green wearing what appeared to be the same necklace. A friend said Green wore it every day.
The attorneys said DNA from that necklace will prove it belonged to Green.
The trial is expected to continue this week.