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February 06, 2006

Working on the jury

Jury selection Monday was 32 one-act plays. Same three characters with the same lines in all 32.

Only change was the fourth player, the prospective juror in the Sarah Kolb murder trial. He or she made an entrance from a side room, past the lawyers' tables, turned right by the elevated bench of the judge and was ushered into the jury box, first row, third seat over. Most glanced discreetly about as they made their way through the room, and took the seat nervously. They spoke softly, often pausing before they did.

Eleven of the plays were very brief. Like all the others, they began with Judge James Teros asking if they knew anyone on the list of witnesses read to them earlier. Everybody said no. Next question: Have you read or heard about the case? If yes, then: How much? Where? Has that led you to form an opinion as to Ms. Kolb's guilt or innocence?

Seven of them said yes, they'd read and seen things and yes, they had an opinion. The judge politely excused them.

Health issues removed four, the older woman with her arm in a sling, the man who'd recently undergone surgery, the older gentleman who said he was deaf in his left ear and a woman who was, well, really, really old. Couldn't have been an easy thing for her to answer the summons to duty, but she did. People nodded respectfully to her as she made her way through the gallery and out of the courtroom.

Those who made the the first cut got a series of questions and explanations from the judge, all designed to make sure they understood the situation and their part in it. The charge is not proof of guilt, Ms. Kolb is presumed to be innocent. The juror's role is to be a finder of fact. The facts to be considered are those delivered in testimony from the witness stand -- Judge Teros' arm always swung to the witness chair as he delivered the line-- and through exhibits that would be entered into evidence. The judge's role, he said. is to tell them what the law is. The juror, though, he told each, is "the king of facts."

He told him it was their role, too, to decide whether witnesses were credible, using their common sense and experience as a guide.

RICO state's attorney Jeff Terronez came next. He asked whether graphic testimony would affect their ability to be fair, whether they agreed that two people could observe the same event and have two differing opinions about what happened, whether they could treat fairly the testimony of people "who have a different lifestyle than you," and whether they watched law-related shows and if they understood that was made-up stuff that bore no relation to what was before them. "Law and Order", incidentally, must have great ratings in Lee County.

Terronez also asked them all if they could take testimony and "piece it together" with other evidence.

Defense lawyer David Hoffman"s list included, as you sit there now, can you assume my client is not guilty? Will you judge my witnesses, if I choose to put any on, by the same standards you apply to prosecution witnesses? If I don't call any witnesses, will you find my client not guilty, if you have a reasonable at the end of the prosecution's case? He also asked most all of them what he admitted to one was a little bit of a trick question. If you had to vote right now, how would you rule? Answer of course, is not guilty, if the prospect was being honest in saying they assumed Ms. Kolb is innocent. Some answered quicker than others. Hoffman used one of his peremptory challenges to excuse one guy who took quite a little time to respond.

Eight prospects were cut at some point or another by peremptory challenges. Hoffman used up five of the seven each side is allotted. Terronez used three of his.

Judge Teros excused an additional three because of responses to the lawyers' questions. One was a guy who said in his experience cops are "out and out liars", one who said he had a lot of respect for police officers and prosecutors, and who said his son is Lee County state's attorney and one who said a Kolb cousin was a regular customer at her place of employment.

By the time Judge Teros called it off for the day shortly after 5 p.m., 10 people made it all the way through the questioning, to be sworn as jurors. First guy was a truck driver who said all he'd heard about the case was chatter on the CB radio while driving through the Q-C. Said he hadn't formed any opinions based on that, since "truck drivers are known for being full of it."

There's a retired school teacher, who said she spent nine months in Ohio, with her new grand-twins, and doesn't know anything about the case.

There's a special ed teacher who doesn't have time for the news, a registered nurse, and yet another teacher, this one in computer science, who doesn't pay any attention to the news. This one was a bit shy about saying the paid no attention to the news. "The press is over there," she said.

"Oh," Hoffman said, "Don't worry about hurting their feelings." As the laughter swelled, the judge added, "That's impossible." Media guy can't go anywhere these days without getting kicked around a little.

There's also a grade school math teacher, a civil engineer who works for the state, a machine tool operator, a mental health technician who works with severely handicapped adults, and a retired bank cashier.

Getting 10 jurors picked today is a bit better than most of the trial crowd expected. Two thirds of the way there, two jurors and three alternates remaining. The one-act plays resume at 9 tomorrow morning.

Time to go see if the sports bar down the hall has any food out tonight.

Posted by jcb at February 6, 2006 09:40 PM


Seems to me I've read that,in Canada and Britain,no press coverage is allowed of an ongoing trial, presumable to avoid contaminating
a jury pool and a jury's thinking. Much as I value the watchdog role of the press, I think that these countries may have a good idea with
their proscription. Trial justice may well trump
the public's real-time curiosity.
Kirk Witherspoon

Posted by: Kirk Witherspoon at February 7, 2006 03:16 PM