Monday, February 23, 2009

Jury Selection in Cuadra Case Resumes Today

The Citizens' Voice is reporting that Nearly 100 potential jurors for the capital homicide case of Harlow Cuadra have walked through the doors of county Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr.’s courtroom. After four days of questioning, only 11 jurors have made the cut.

Prosecution and defense attorneys will continue their search at 8:30 a.m. today for the 12th juror and four alternates who will decide Cuadra’s guilt or innocence in the January 2007 killing of Bryan Kocis, who was stabbed at his Dallas Township home before it was set on fire.

Jury selection in the case, which started Tuesday, has progressed slowly at times. Prosecution and defense attorneys have interviewed 94 potential jurors individually, for a trial expected to last about three weeks. The high publicity of the case, the fact prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty and any potential bias against Cuadra, who worked in the gay pornography business, have all led to the pace of selecting a jury.

Forty-one potential jurors were dismissed for cause or potential bias, most of them stating they couldn’t impose the death penalty or that they had heard too much about the case. Because prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty, every juror must be willing to consider capital punishment if the jury finds Cuadra guilty of first-degree homicide.

Each side has searched for any potential bias, particularly related to views on homosexuality. Prosecutors allege Cuadra, 27, killed Kocis, a rival producer of gay pornography, in order to eliminate him as a competitor.

Defense Attorney Demetrius Fannick, who is not involved in this case, said jury selection would be expected to take this long, as attorneys are juggling legal issues as well as other factors.

“You’re asking the jury to believe you, to believe your argument,” Fannick said. “That (jury selection) is really the only time you have to interact with the juror to make them feel comfortable, to get them to like you. If you’re on your 30th juror of that day, you might be tired, but you can’t think of that person as one of the countless ones who won’t make the panel, you have to treat that person like the next juror.”

Defense attorneys have struck 18 potential jurors; prosecutors have struck 14. Each side is given 20 challenges while selecting the 12 jurors and two challenges when selecting the four alternates.

Fannick defended Hugo Selenski in his 2006 death penalty trial — he was found not guilty of homicide, but guilty of other charges — when 114 potential jurors were questioned over six days. Fannick said he has had cases where more than 125 potential jurors were interviewed.

District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll wouldn’t specifically comment about selecting jurors because the Cuadra case is still ongoing but said that in any trial expected to last this long, attorneys will make sure all jurors appear ready to handle the rigors of paying attention to testimony over several weeks.

Fannick said attorneys will have different approaches to jury selection, but the process is as important as the trial itself.

“You go in with a preconceived idea of what you’d like the panel to look like,” he said. “Maybe you want more men or women or blue collar workers. Whatever it is in your mind, you’re trying to get that panel to hear your case.”

So far, Cuadra’s jury is made up of seven men and four women. If the jury and alternates are selected before early afternoon Monday, Olszewski said opening arguments will begin later in the day.