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Jury selection inches forward in death penalty trial

LAWRENCEVILLE — The jury selection process entered a second week Monday in Gwinnett County’s first death penalty trial in seven years.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys for Lawrenceville resident Richard Ringold, 47, were working through the Columbus Day holiday to whittle a jury pool down to at least the minimum 42 qualified jurors required for a death penalty case. After a week of jury selection ending about 5 p.m. Friday, attorneys had qualified 19 people to serve as jurors.

As a next step, each side will strike qualified jurors until a panel of 12 remains, plus a few alternate jurors retained in case some can’t complete a trial expected to consume weeks, said Dan Mayfield, Chief Assistant District Attorney. When testimony could begin was not known Monday.

The qualification process weeds out people not entitled for legal reasons to sit on juries, or whom judges exclude for other reasons, Mayfield said.

Prosecutors believe Ringold, 47, was the lone shooter in a domestic rampage at his girlfriend’s Lawrenceville home that killed four in August 2009. The victims included Ringold’s girlfriend, Atania Butler, 28, her 11-year-old daughter, Rico Zimmerman, 19, and Lakeisha Parker, 30. All four were shot execution-style, following an argument between Ringold and Butler in the home’s front yard, detectives said at the time.

Ringold is also accused of shooting Butler’s 4-year-old daughter in the shoulder. She survived, as did an uninjured woman who fled to a home down the street and called 911, police said.

According to Georgia law, a jury must reach a unanimous verdict for Ringold to be sentenced to death or life without parole. His case joins two other pending death-penalty cases in Gwinnett.

Gwinnett’s last death-penalty trial spanned two months from jury selection to verdict.

Wesley Harris was sentenced to life in prison without parole instead of the death penalty for kidnapping and fatally shooting a woman and her 2-year-old daughter in 1999. The jury was split 10-2 on the death penalty.

Gwinnett prosecutors last succeeded in securing the death penalty in 2002, when Michael Nance was condemned for a second time after his initial death sentence was overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Nance killed a Gwinnett County Department of Transportation employee while trying to escape a botched bank robbery in 1993. He remains on death row.