Potential jurors to be closely scrutinized

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 19, 2002

A careful and lengthy jury selection process for the murder trial of Paul Gutierrez Jr.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

A careful and lengthy jury selection process for the murder trial of Paul Gutierrez Jr., who is accused of killing 18-month-old Makio Lynn Radke, started today in the district court.

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A 12-member jury and two alternates will be chosen from 60 prospective jurors summoned by the court. The process is expected to take at least two days.

Judge James Broberg ordered the jury selection to be conducted in a closed-door session. &uot;A lot of questions will touch on their privacy. And the presence of the public and media may influence their answers,&uot; he said, explaining the reason.

The 60 potential jurors are randomly drawn from a jury source list compiled by court administration from voter registration and drivers license lists.

They will fill out a questionnaire form provided by the court asking about their personal backgrounds and prior exposure to the case through news reporting and other outside sources.

With knowledge from the questionnaire sheet, the defense attorney and prosecutor will query the potential jurors one-by-one, which is called voir dire examination. The one-by-one examination is employed only in first-degree murder cases.

The focus in the voir dire will be whether a potential juror is related to the defendant, has previously sued the defendant in an unrelated civil matter, has been connected with the defendant in some business transactions, or cannot be fair and impartial for other reasons. Prior knowledge about the case that may influence the opinion of the juror will be also scrutinized.

The defense and prosecutor can enter a challenge for cause, with which they ask a potential jurors to be dismissed if they cannot be fair and impartial. If the judge allows the challenge, the prospective juror will be excused from the trial.

The voir dire will last until 36 prospective jurors have passed the examination. If the 60-member jury panel is dried up, the court will draw more people from its list.

The last step to select 12 jurors and two alternates is called a peremptory challenge, in which the defense and prosecutor can eliminate prospective jurors they do not want. In accordance with the state rule, the defense attorney can strike 15 potential jurors while the prosecutor can 9.

Unlike the challenge for cause in voir dire process, both sides can exercise the peremptory challenge without providing the reason for disqualification.

Nevertheless, the challenge requires the prosecutor to comply with the Equal Protection Clause that forbids a systematic exclusion of potential jurors solely on account of their race, sex, and socio-economic status.

Broberg will order the jury not to discuss the case with anybody or obtain any information from outside sources, including the news media.

He said a sequestering the jury, which insulates the jury from the public by confining them in a motel throughout the three-week trial, is not an option at this moment.

Gutierrez was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, by child abuse and sexual conduct, and one count of second-degree murder in connection with Radke’s death on April 21 last year. The maximum penalty would be a life in prison.