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Archive for Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Jury seated in Boardwalk fire retrial

May 1, 2007

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6News video: Jury selection begins today in Boardwalk Apartment re-trial

Twenty-one-year-old Jason Rose is charged with aggravated arson, three counts of murder, and seven counts of aggravated battery. He's accused of setting a fire at the Boardwalk Apartment Complex that killed three people. Enlarge video

Judge among pool candidates, misses final cut

She didn't have to go far from her office to report for jury duty.

Among the potential jurors called Monday to the courthouse for the murder and arson trial of Jason A. Rose was Douglas County District Judge Paula Martin, whose offices are just feet from the courtroom where the case will be tried.

Martin answered questions from attorneys throughout the morning during jury selection - mentioning, for example, that she knew some of the officers and other courthouse personnel involved in the case - and was among the 42 people who made it to the final jury pool.

But after attorneys for both sides made their decisions about whom to eliminate - each side striking 14 people - Martin was among those dismissed.

"Anybody in the community was subject to being summoned," she said afterward. "It just goes to show you we're in there with everybody else."

On the advice of his attorney, Jason A. Rose rarely lifts his eyes to look directly at the people who will be deciding whether he's guilty of murder and arson.

"A lot of times he has to do what he's doing now - just look down," his attorney, Ron Evans, said Monday during jury selection. "He really can't win a body language game with you folks. Anything he does you could take the wrong way."

Opening statements are scheduled to begin this morning in Douglas County District Court in a second trial for Rose, who is charged with killing three people and injuring seven more in the Oct. 7, 2005, fire at Boardwalk Apartments. A previous trial in February ended in a mistrial when prosecutors discovered a new witness midway through.

"Jason sits here presumed innocent. : Is there anyone who can't look at Jason right now and presume that he is innocent of this crime?" attorney Evans asked prospective jurors Monday.

About 70 people reported for jury selection Monday. Judge Jack Murphy seated 42 of them in a group, and attorneys set about asking them questions, including whether they knew anyone involved in the case, whether they had ever escaped from a fire and whether they could look at gruesome photos.

"This is a case that does raise strong emotions," said Amy McGowan, assistant district attorney. "Everyone knows someone in some way that's been affected by it. : Everyone has heard or read things about it. But can you put that aside and listen to the evidence?"

About 18 potential jurors were dismissed, for reasons ranging from personal hardships to their professed inability to keep an open mind. Each time the judge dismissed someone, a new person joined the group of 42.

About 3 p.m., when all 42 people seated on the panel were deemed qualified to serve, the defense and the prosecution chose an equal number of jurors to dismiss. That left 14 people: a jury of six men and six women, plus two male alternates.

The trial is expected to last up to two weeks, during which jurors will hear from 40 to 50 witnesses and view a lengthy videotape of Rose's statement to police.

Rose is charged with three counts of murder in the deaths of Kansas University student Nicole Bingham, electrician Jose Gonzalez and social worker Yolanda Riddle. He's also charged with aggravated arson and with aggravated battery for injuring seven people who were hurt in the fire at the apartments in the 500 block of Fireside Drive.

Prosecutors have not publicly described the new witness whose discovery caused Rose's first trial to end abruptly, but the timing of the mistrial coincided with a post on the Journal-World's Web site that revealed new information about the case.

On Feb. 9 - the day prosecutors said the new witness came forward - a comment posted by a user under the name "truth_society" stated that Rose had told the poster and several others during his stay in a group home for youths "that as soon as he moved out into his own apartment space, he was going to set it on fire."

The Journal-World received a subpoena that evening requesting records and Internet protocol addresses for the poster. The newspaper complied later that night, based on the ljworld.com user agreement in which the company reserves the right to disclose identifying information of those posting comments in the event of legal action.

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