A jury trial was set in the case of Ken White, the former Paducah restaurant owner accused of attempting to entice a child, during a pretrial conference Thursday morning.
White, 41, will appear in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, in Benton, for a Jan. 11, 2021, trial following a final pretrial conference set for Dec. 22. He faces one count of attempted enticement of a child using a means of interstate commerce, which carries a potential penalty of 10 years to life in prison. He pleaded not guilty in July.
He was arrested in early June after a federal official said White responded to an ad placed by the officer and attempted to meet for a sexual encounter involving a purported 10-year-old child.
Both sides of the bench are prepared for a trial, though there is some concern about how the proceedings will go with regards to an in-person jury trial in the age of COVID-19.
“I think we can be ready for trial. I think I speak for both sides on that. As it’s presently set I don’t know logistically how Your Honor would want to handle it,” said Dave Bundrick, White’s attorney. “I wouldn’t be opposed to delaying but I don’t know how much the situation is going to improve as far as the need for masks and separation and all that sort of thing.”
There has been discussion between Assistant U.S. Attorney Casey Bloodworth and Bundrick about how a jury trial would proceed given the risks due to COVID-19.
Both parties expect the trial itself to be speedy — allotting a day for jury selection and another day for proof. Bundrick does plan to submit an entrapment jury instruction, he told the judge.
The original trial date was set for Oct. 19, but White is waiving his right to a speedy trial so the court can be convened safely for a jury trial with COVID-19 precautions in place.
“I believe we will be ready — as ready as we can be — as the trial is currently scheduled,” he said. “My attitude on it is I think that if there were going to be some change in the practice and the difficulties that we’re going to face from a logistics standpoint I’d rather postpone it, but I don’t think things are going to change.”
In Bloodworth’s eyes, his team is satisfied with its preparations.
“From the government’s perspective, all discovery is complete and I think we’re ready to proceed to trial,” he said.
Senior Judge J. Phil Gilbert, who presided over the pretrial conference, also laid out his thoughts on COVID-19 precautions in the courtroom — masks when not speaking, plexiglass shields, socially distant jury members and so on.
“Of course, obviously, we haven’t had any jury trials since this pandemic started here in this courthouse,” Gilbert said. “Right now, I agree, I think we’re going to be doing this pandemic mitigation, masks and social distancing, for some time.
“We haven’t done one yet so we just don’t know how that’s going to play out.”