Archive for Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Murray trial likely to remain in county

Attorneys to resume juror questioning today in slaying case

February 15, 2005


Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of a Kansas State University English professor, and by day's end it appeared there would be enough unbiased Douglas County residents to select a jury of 12.

"You are the people who will judge, evaluate and investigate the facts in this case," defense attorney Pedro Irigonegaray told the crowd of potential jurors. "This is as serious as it gets."

Fifty-seven people showed up for jury duty, about half in the morning and half in the afternoon. They crowded into a basement room at the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St., and sat in chairs facing prosecutors, defense attorneys and defendant Thomas E. Murray.

At the end of the day, 36 jurors remained in the pool, and the rest had been dismissed -- most of them for personal reasons, but a handful because they said they'd made up their minds about the case.

When more jurors report for duty this morning, attorneys will be just nine people away from getting the 45 potential jurors they need for the trial to move ahead.

"We'll be able to reach the number," said Tom Bath, a private prosecutor hired by the slaying victim's family.

Once there are 45 potential jurors, the prosecution and the defense each will get to strike an equal number until there are 12 jurors and three alternates. That process is expected to happen Wednesday morning, and opening statements will start Thursday. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.

Murray, an English professor and linguistics expert, is charged with first-degree murder in the November 2003 stabbing and beating of his ex-wife, Carmin D. Ross, at her home northwest of Lawrence.

The process of questioning a jury is called voir dire -- a French phrase that means to see someone speak.

"Can you imagine how dangerous that would be if we couldn't see those who judge us?" Irigonegaray said.

Irigonegaray and prosecutors Bath and Angela Wilson each took turns asking jurors follow-up questions to a 13-page, written questionnaire designed to elicit personal information about them and help spot biased jurors.

Prosecutors' questions included who in the crowd had Internet access, whether they felt they could sit in judgment of another person, and if they thought they couldn't convict someone unless there was an eyewitness.

Murray's attorneys are using jury consultants Lisa Dahl and Bret Dillingham of Lawrence to help them evaluate the jury pool.

Several times, Irigonegaray stood behind Murray and rubbed his client's shoulders. He described Murray as "a man of words, a man of great intellect."

Irigonegaray polled jurors individually about whether they could judge the case fairly. He asked them whether they could separate fact from intuition.

"Imagine if you thought that, 'I think he's guilty, but they haven't proven it,'" he said. "What are you going to do?"

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