Bill McInnis was drawn to court Monday because he’d met Jennifer Wilson on campus seven years ago and found her to be a remarkable person.
They were in a Spanish class together at the University of South Carolina. She sat right behind him, the two of them older than the typical students surrounding them.
“She was brushing up, because she had a trip planned to South America,” said McInnis, who described Wilson as kind, “super bright” and charismatic.
“She had such a great future ahead of her,” he said. “She’s just one of those people you don’t forget.”
McInnis sat near a group of Wilson’s friends and family, a clutch of stoic survivors that grew to about 15 throughout the day. One woman was wiping away tears by the time the judge dismissed the newly seated jury, telling them to be back at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Wilson — at 36, a promising USC professor — was stabbed to death in her Shandon home in August 2011, after breaking off a relationship with Hank Hawes. Hawes had only recently moved to Columbia to be nearer to Wilson after the two met on an Internet dating site.
Now he is on trial for her slaying.
Testimony is expected to last at least a week in Richland County’s Courtroom 3A.
Farther down the bench, seated by himself as a jury was selected, was Fred Lawrence, a retired Methodist pastor from Florida.
He said he’d come to Columbia at the request of Hawes’ mother and grandmother to be of any support or assistance he could.
“I am simply here because the family could not be here, and they wanted him to know he is loved, even though we are all sorely disappointed and we are heartbroken with what has happened,” Ferguson said.
The minister said he has corresponded with Hawes by mail, visited him once at the county jail and hopes to speak with Hawes at the courthouse before returning to Florida.
Others in the courtroom were reporters, a criminal justice student at the University of South Carolina and young lawyers honing their craft.
Then there was John Quincy Davis, who studies the legal system as his avocation: He’s sat in on every prominent trial of the past 20 or 30 years.
Davis said he was curious about this trial because it involves domestic violence and a defendant who seems to have “conned” the women in his life.
Judge J.C. Nicholson Jr. questioned potential jurors about their views on crime generally and on domestic violence specifically. He asked about their ties to potential witnesses in the case — doctors, police officers, a university professor, a yoga instructor.
When he asked whether any of the 60 people in the jury pool had ever been the victim of domestic violence, a woman in the back stood up.
Then he asked whether anyone in the room had such strong views on domestic abuse that they felt they could not be impartial. Another woman stood.
When it came time for prosecution and defense lawyers to pick the jury, seven women were dismissed before the first man was.
Ultimately, they chose a jury of seven men and five women. Many are professionals: a lawyer, a park ranger, two account executives, a policy specialist and a sales manager.
Although the jury pool did not see it, Hawes was led into court wearing handcuffs and shackles.
He was dressed in a gray suit, white shirt and striped tie. Once seated, he reviewed handwritten paperwork he slipped from a manila envelope. Now and then, he talked casually with a young woman from the public defender’s office seated next to him.
Columbia police quickly took Hawes, 40, into custody after discovering Wilson’s body in a front room of her home.
A search warrant said Hawes, appearing “a bit disoriented” and without a shirt, was seen leaving Wilson’s Monroe Street house around 8:15 a.m. on the morning of her death, Aug. 28, 2011.
He went home to his house on Woodrow Street and called a female friend, telling her what he had done, according to a city police officer who testified at his bond hearing. That friend apparently called police, who then went to Wilson’s house.