Archive for Monday, February 5, 2007

Experts see jury selection challenge

Questioning starts today in Boardwalk Apartments fire trial

February 5, 2007


Attorneys begin narrowing down potential jurors in 'Boardwalk Fire' case

Jason Rose, 21, is charged with setting the fire in October, 2005, that killed three people and injured at least 20 others. Enlarge video

All day today, attorneys in the Jason Rose murder trial will ask potential jurors one question: How much do you know about the case?

Since an October 2005 arson destroyed a building in the Boardwalk Apartment complex, killing three people, many Lawrencians have followed every twist of Rose's case in the media.

But will that coverage - plus the tight-knit nature of the community - hamper attempts by defense and prosecuting attorneys and Judge Jack Murphy to find a fair and unbiased jury?

Local and national jury consultants contacted Monday think it might.

"It's actually quite a big barrier," said Sarah Murray, a senior consultant with Trial Behavior Consulting in San Francisco. "With that kind of coverage, a majority of jurors come in believing that a defendant in a criminal docket is guilty."

The Rose jury will come from 101 prospective jurors. Court Clerk Doug Hamilton said the juror candidates were given a basic questionnaire prior to today's selection. He said he thought the jury selection process should take only a day to complete.

But Murray said in her experience of selecting juries for high-profile cases, the selection process often could take longer than that.

"One hundred (prospective jurors) is not going to be enough," she said.

For attorneys and judges in high-profile cases, the selection process can present some unique challenges, Murray said. Among them:

¢ Creating a comfortable enough environment during interviews so people who have been influenced by outside forces will admit it.

¢ Having the skill and sophistication to flush out jurors who have been affected but, for whatever reason, are reluctant to say so.

The Rose trial could come with additional obstacles. In cases where there has been a publicized confession, such as Rose's, the likelihood that jurors have their mind made up when they go into the courtroom grows exponentially, Murray said.

"A huge majority of people aren't going to come in there with an open mind," she said. "You have to uncover who has those beliefs."

Plus, the crimes Rose has been accused of - specifically, the deaths of Nicole Bingham, Jose Gonzalez and Yolanda Riddle, and the loss of the 76-unit apartment building in the 500 block of Fireside Drive - affected many in what is typically a close-knit community, said Bret Dillingham, a Lawrence jury consultant. Dillingham has not been involved with selecting the Rose jury.

The jurors, he said, will have to be relatively detached from the fire.

"It'll be a challenge," Dillingham said.

But in some ways, the Rose trial could be viewed as straightforward, said Samuel H. Solomon, chairman and CEO of New York-based DOAR Litigation Consulting.

The case, in many ways, is missing a real emotional component for people not intimately involved, Solomon said. So long as you're not a friend or family member of a victim, it shouldn't be difficult for those in Lawrence to hear the trial fairly.

A change of venue is also out of the question, Solomon said. Rose's defense may ask for it, but without the vast majority of prospective jurors saying the believe Rose is guilty, the trial will stay in Douglas County.

"You're not going to get anywhere near those responses," Solomon said.

Who's Who in the Rose Trial

Amy McGowan Assistant district AttorneyAge: 46Lives in: Kansas CityEducation: J.D. KU, 1984. Bachelors degree in film studies, KU, 1981.In brief: McGowan was hired earlier in 2005 by Dist. Atty. Charles Branson. Before that she had been a Jackson County, Mo. prosecutor since 1988 and previously worked from 1985 to 1988 in the Shawnee County Dist. Atty.'s office. She also prosecuted the state's murder case against Thomas E. Murray, a Kansas State professor convicted in 2005 of killing his wife.

Jason Allen RoseAge: 21Lives in: LawrenceIn brief: Just days after the last embers of the 76-unit building at the Boardwalk Apartments, prosecutors had charged Jason Allen Rose, the just 20 years old, with setting the fire that killed three people. A former group home resident who had just moved into the 76-unit building months before, Rose had a history of arson during his time in foster care - and a bumpy family background often fraught with abuse and abandonment.

Detective Troy SquireAge: 34Experience: 10-year veteran with the Lawrence Police DepartmentIn brief: Squire interviewed Jason Rose at length in the days following the Boardwalk Apartment fire, eventually capturing a confession that jurors will be allowed to weigh as evidence during trial.

Jose GonzalezFire VictimIn Brief: Described as a free spirit and a dedicated worker, Gonzalez died at 50 years old the night of Oct. 7 in the Boardwalk fire. From Edinburg, Texas, he graduated from high school in San Antonio and had lived in Lawrence for more than three years.He worked for Quality Electric, Inc., when he died, leaving behind two sisters, five brothers and a love for pool, sports and his neices and nephews.

Yolanda RiddleFire VictimIn brief: A social worker with a big heart, Riddle worked for the state Social and Rehabilitation Services in Ottawa when she died in the Boardwalk Fire. She earned degrees from Haskell Indian Nations University, Kansas University and Washington University in St. Louis, and was a member of the Dine Indian Nation.Seldom speaking about the job she loved, it took her death for her family to fully understand the passion she had for helping others. She was 35 years old when she died.

Nicole BinghamFire VictimIn brief: A senior at Kansas University when she died in the Boardwalk Apartment fire, Bingham made fast and close friends during her time at the university and in the Alpha Delta Pi sorority.She survived open heart surgery six years before she died, always assuming that her heart defect, not fire, would end her life.

Judge Jack A. MurphyBirthdate: Oct. 10, 1943Admitted to practice in Mo. in 1971.Admitted to practice in KS. 1982.Contact: 785-832-5248

Ronald F. Evans, defense attorney for Jason A. RoseChief Attorney for the Kansas Death Peanality Defense UnitBirthdate: 1957Admitted to practice in Okla. in 1983.Admitted to practice in KS. in 1996In brief: Evans is a capital crimes attorney who has heard death peanility cases in both Kansas and Oklahoma.

Yolanda Jacksonassociate professor in the Department of Applied Behavioral ScienceEducation: Doctorate from University of Alabama and completed internship at Children's Medical Center in Tulsa, Okla.In brief: Jackson, a child development expert, will be one of the defenses primary witnesses. She has interviewed Rose several times, and will help bolster the defense's argument that because of his background of abuse, his confession to police may not have been accurate.


Mike Blur 11 years, 4 months ago

It will not be difficult to find a jury of unbiased peers. Although we perceive this case to be under the glare of intense media scrutiny, trust me guys - there are literally thousands of people in Lawrence who abhor current events, who know nothing about this case, and who could probably rattle off Paris Hilton's cell phone number and not even know where Boardwalk Apartments is.

Whether or not they're fit for jury duty is up to the court officers today.

Sandman 11 years, 4 months ago

The lawyers could ask for a change of venue, but no attorney in his right mind would want to get out of a jury pool full of liberals.

Tom McCune 11 years, 4 months ago

At some point, I just don't care about his troubled past. If he had caused some minor mischief, maybe that would be relevant. But unless he was actively hallucinating due to circumstances beyond his control, hold him fully responsible if a jury finds him guilty.

nytemayr 11 years, 4 months ago

Its going to be a messy trial. Of all places in Kansas I'd think Lawrence is the best opportunity for the defendant to get a not guilty result. I can only hope for truth and justice.

Sigmund 11 years, 4 months ago

All the defense needs is one juror to hold out and the defendant gets a mistrial, jury decisions must be unanimous. And yes, liberal Lawrence Kansas is the venue that the defendant is most likely to find a juror willing to believe a "too many twinkies" or "chewbacca" defense.

For those not familiar with the twinkie or chewbacca defenses ...

unklemonkey 11 years, 4 months ago

It shouldn't be THAT hard to find good jurors. Enough dawdling! I want this to start.

Ragingbear 11 years, 4 months ago

Breaking News! Grass is indeed green!

Of course people are going to have difficulty being objective. This man has already been found guilty in the eyes of the prosecution. They are always going to lean towards the assumption of guilt. That is how things go.

But I tell you, if I was one that would believe every man is innocent until proven guilty, and the defense of "Oh. I didn't mean to do it" would mean, "Oh well. I didn't want to find you guilty, but I had to because your lawyer is an idiot.".

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