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Jury Selection Strategy in High Profile Cases

Jury Selection Strategy in High Profile Cases

Posted - Nov. 7, 2004 at 4:54 p.m.



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Tonya Papanikolas ReportingFrom the Scott Peterson murder trial to the upcoming Mark Hacking case, jury selection is critical for both the defense and prosecution. Jurors in the Scott Peterson double murder trial are taking their time to decide his fate. This weekend they are sequestered in a hotel room where they are prohibited from discussing the case. That trial gives us an inside glimpse into jury selection as we look ahead to Mark Hacking's upcoming trial.

If no plea bargain is reached by April, Mark Hacking will be going to trial, like Scott Peterson. As lawyers here in Utah prepare for that day, they are very aware that the jury holds a defendant's fate in their hands, so choosing a jury is crucial to the case. We can learn something about the process from the Peterson trial in California.

After three days of deliberating, the jurors in the Scott Peterson trial did not reach a verdict on whether Peterson killed his wife and unborn son. Six men and six women make up that jury. They all have different backgrounds, but many are professionals.

The list includes a county social worker, firefighter-paramedic, a Teamster, gas and electric employee, accountant, adoption worker, and the foreman, a doctor and lawyer who has been very attentive through the trial.

Jim Hammer, Legal Analyst: “He was probably the most intense. He filled either twelve or nineteen notebooks full of notes. He wrote everything down.”

¶Lawyers like to see jurors taking their job seriously and not just relying on what they may have heard in the media. Mark Hacking's attorney says that will be his challenge when it comes to picking a jury in April.

Gil Athay, Mark Hacking's Attorney: “It’s going to be very difficult. The publicity in this case is going to make it very difficult.”

In a high-profile trial you might think it would be best to find jurors who haven't heard of the case. But Gil Athay says it's not ideal.

Gil Athay, Mark Hacking's Attorney: “When you look at people who haven't watched TV, who don't read newspapers, who aren't exposed to the news, you wonder what kind of jury you're really getting."

So what kind of jurors will Athay look for? Very possibly ones with professional backgrounds, just like those in the Peterson case.

Gil Athay: “we want educated, highly-educated people, maybe even professional people, who can and will put aside what they've heard and try to judge the case based on the evidence in the courtroom."

That is obviously a difficult task. Many jurors in the Peterson case had heard about the murder before they were selected. One even said he had thought Peterson was guilty, but claimed he could put that aside to be fair.

Jury selection in the Hacking case won't happen until April 18th. The trial should take place later that same week.

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