ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A judge who was set to hear the high profile trial in the murder of Abilene realtor Tom Niblo has tested positive for COVID-19.
Judge Thomas Wheeler, who presides over Taylor County’s 350th District Court, tested positive for the virus the morning jury selection was set to begin.
However, the trial will still go on with Judge Lee Hamilton, who is recently retired from Taylor County’s 104th District Court, hearing the case.
Voir dire, which starts the jury selection process, will being Monday afternoon and opening statements are set to take place Tuesday morning.
If the courtroom is too full, the case will be moved down to the 1st floor, where they will have more room for a large gallery.
Suspect Luke Sweester, charged with Murder, attended a pre-trial hearing Friday, still in custody, wearing an orange jumpsuit with shackles around his wrists and ankles.
During the hearing, KTAB and KRBC learned that 125 potential jurors were qualified Friday afternoon, ahead of voir dire. From there, a jury of 12 with two alternates will be chosen to hear the trial.
Sweester’s defense attorney stated that if too many people in the jury pool know of the case during voir dire, he will have to file a change of venue motion. It’s unknown how that motion would affect the trial.
Niblo was shot and killed inside his home on Woodridge Drive.
Niblo was Sweetser’s brother-in-law, and court documents suggest that the two could have been involved in an ongoing dispute over Niblo’s late father’s estate. His will named Niblo and his mother as an executor, but not his sister, Sweetser’s wife Ellouise.
When investigators executed a search warrant on a storage building connected to the Niblo family after his murder, they discovered stolen firearms belonging to a local attorney in a safe solely controlled by Sweetser. He has been charged with Theft of a Firearm in connection to this incident, and is set to stand trial for this charge on August 22 as well.
BigCountryHomepage.com will continue to monitor the status of these trials. Check back for any updates.