New jury panel to be brought in for pizza delivery murder trial after first is dismissed

A new panel of potential jurors will be brought in for Erica Stefanko’s retrial after attorneys learned that several jurors in the first pool had researched and discussed the pizza delivery murder case.

Summit County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer Towell dismissed the first pool of 60 jurors Wednesday afternoon.

Attorneys will begin questioning 60 new potential jurors Thursday morning, with the hope of seating a jury by the end of the day.

This development will delay the start of Stefanko’s trial, with opening statements now expected Tuesday morning, nearly a week after originally planned.

More: Rittman woman to be retried in pizza delivery murder case in Summit County court

Stefanko, 41, of Rittman, is accused of making a bogus pizza delivery phone call that lured Ashley Biggs to the back of a New Franklin business where she was killed in 2012.

Stefanko was convicted of aggravated murder after a trial in November 2020 at a time when few trials were proceeding because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her conviction was overturned, though, when an appellate court ruled that Chad Cobb, Stefanko’s ex-husband who is serving a life sentence for Biggs’ murder, should not have been permitted to testify via video because of COVID health concerns and protocols.

Cobb and Biggs, 25, of Jackson Township, were embroiled in a custody dispute concerning their daughter, who was 7 at the time.

Stefanko’s first trial was livestreamed by Court TV and her retrial is being featured on the network as well.

Defense was concerned about first jury pool being ‘poisoned’

Jury selection in Stefanko’s retrial began Tuesday and continued into Wednesday, with jurors split into two groups and asked to fill out questionnaires.

The issue arose when attorneys learned that jurors in the second group had looked up information on the case and discussed it before they were admonished against this. The attorneys and Towell questioned the jurors individually and learned they knew details about the case, including that it was a retrial.

“Based upon that, the defense had concerns about the jury poll being poisoned,” said Jeff Laybourne, who is representing Stefanko with attorney Angie Kille.

Towell said steps will be taken with the new jury pool to safeguard against this problem, including having all of them report to the ceremonial courtroom -- which was unavailable when the first pool was brought in -- and giving them questionnaires that will include a front page that warns against discussing or researching the case.

“We will proceed with an abundance of caution for all parties,” Towell said.

Towell said jurors will be told they can only discuss sports and the weather.

After the jury is picked, they will be taken on Friday to visit sites that are pertinent to the case, including where Biggs was killed and where her body was found in a cornfield in Wayne County.

With Monday being a holiday, that means the first chance for opening statements and the start of testimony will be Tuesday morning.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at, 330-996-3705 and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj. 

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: New pool of jurors to be brought in for Erica Stefanko's retrial