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Questioning interrupted in Corbin case

LAWRENCEVILLE - A significant development in the Barton Corbin case interrupted jury questioning Tuesday morning and prompted Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter to leave the courtroom.

About 10:30 a.m., Porter stood up after being handed a note by someone in his office. He asked the judge for permission to be excused, leaving his assistant district attorney, Chuck Ross, to finish questioning potential jurors.

After the court took a midday recess, a closed-door meeting took place with defense attorneys, prosecutors and Superior Court Judge Michael C. Clark. Court officials then announced that jury questioning was canceled for the day. It is scheduled to resume Thursday morning.

Porter remained cryptic about the development Tuesday, declining to discuss any details. He said news would probably not be available today either.

When questioned about his courtroom disappearing act, Porter would only say, "there was a matter in this case that required my immediate attention."

Porter said the delay in jury questioning was due to a conflict in the judge's schedule, not the "development." Defense attorney David Wolfe could not be reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

Significant progress has been made already in finding a qualified jury pool from which to pick. Five out of 10 jurors questioned Monday were qualified and a sixth potential juror was selected Tuesday morning.

"It's going a little slower than we anticipated, but not so slow that it's a cause for concern," Porter said. "In the great scheme of things, we'll have a jury by Sept. 25."

A total of 42 qualified jurors are needed before lawyers can begin the process of jury striking, whittling that number down to a jury panel with 12 members and four alternates. Georgia law allows prosecutors and defense attorneys an equal number of jury strikes - nine each, plus one strike per alternate.

More than 600 jury summonses were initially sent out for the Corbin case, but several dozen were excused last week after they presented evidence that serving on the jury would present a hardship on their family. Others were excused because they were convicted felons, did not speak English, or were the primary caregiver for a child under the age of 6.

Corbin, a 42-year-old dentist who practiced in Dacula, is accused of killing his wife Jennifer Corbin, 33, on Dec. 4, 2004. She was found dead of a single gunshot wound to the head in their Buford home.

Corbin is also charged in Richmond County with the 1990 shooting death of Dorothy "Dolly" Hearn, his girlfriend and fellow student in dental school at Medical College of Georgia. Hearn, 27, also died of a single gunshot wound to the head. The case was initially ruled a suicide, but it was reopened after Jennifer Corbin's death.

Corbin has pleaded not guilty in both cases, and his lawyers contend that the two women committed suicide.

Prosecutors plan to present evidence from the Hearn case during the trial for Jennifer Corbin's wife's death, which is tentatively scheduled to begin Sept. 25 in Gwinnett County. A trial date has not been set in Richmond County.