HAMILTON – It took the whole day to seat a jury for the trial of Hamilton pastor Harris Himes on felony securities fraud charges in Ravalli County District Court on Monday.
“I am chagrined with the developments of the case so far,” District Judge Loren Tucker told Himes and the prosecutors after the 12 regular and two alternate jurors were approved at 4:50 p.m. “We need to try this case, rather than debating how it’s going to be done.”
That begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday, when the state will attempt to prove Himes committed felony counts of theft, fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud following allegations he cheated a church member out of $150,000 in 2008. Himes is representing himself in the trial and has pleaded not guilty.
While reviewing the more than 50 perspective jurors, Himes acknowledged he has been a controversial figure in the community and asked if anyone would have difficulty with that.
“I am a fundamentalist, Bible-thumping conservative Christian,” he told the jury pool. “Christianity is very much under attack. I am a conservative Republican, pro-life abortion opponent. Would that affect anybody? I don’t want your sympathy but I do want justice.”
One man said he was a Jew, and while he believed he could judge Himes impartially, he did not want to see Himes try to use the courtroom to attempt to convert him. Another man said he found it hard to keep an open mind after hearing Himes’ self-description.
Other potential jurors acknowledged family friendships or past associations with Himes. Judge Tucker came from Madison County to preside over the case after Himes filed a motion to disqualify Ravalli County District Judge James Haynes.
According to court records, Himes and another pastor, James “Jeb” Bryant, offered to invest $150,000 of a church member’s inheritance in a Mexican factory. The church member later learned no such factory existed and was unable to get his money returned.
Himes turned himself in after the charges were filed and has been free on his own recognizance. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and also accused the Montana State Auditor’s Office of “selective prosecution” because of his conservative religious views.
State Auditor Monica Lindeen has denied Himes’ accusations.
Bryant also faces charges in the case, and is believed to be living in Mexico. Although there is a warrant for his arrest in Ravalli County, state prosecutors have agreed to let Himes call Bryant as a witness without arresting him.
During the jury selection, Himes said he planned to call between 15 and 20 witnesses, some of whom were flying in from Mexico. The trial is expected to last five to seven days.