Last Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2001, 10 a.m.
Media bias not a serious issue in jury selection
Many prospective jurors in Fitzhugh trial hadn't heard about murder
by Bill D'Agostino
Questioning of prospective jurors in the murder trial of Palo
Altan Kenneth Fitzhugh late this week turned to people's knowledge
of the case through media coverage and personal relationships.
Potential jurors came armed with Palm Pilots, books and newspapers,
and were interviewed by Superior Court Judge Franklin Elia.
About 30 potential jurors were interviewed by the judge and trial
lawyers on Wednesday afternoon, with the rest to be questioned yesterday
The judge dismissed a small handful of people by the end of the
day Wednesday, mostly for associations with people involved in the
case. A woman who knew one of Kenneth Fitzhugh's attorneys, a man
who went to church with one of their partners, and a woman whose
cousin was one of the potential witnesses were all dismissed.
Only one prospective juror was released as of Wednesday due to
her admitted bias caused by her exposure to media coverage, although
the judge asked each person to consider whether they had already
formed an opinion. Most assured the judge that they could put aside
whatever they had heard and review the case on its merits.
A few potential jurors even admitted to not having known of the
murder before this week.
The judge, the district attorney, and the defense attorney started
with approximately 200 people earlier in the week but that number
was whittled down as people were dismissed on hardship claims.
The two attorneys will each have 40 pre-emptive challenges - or
automatic dismissals of any potential juror they choose -- to use
after the judge makes his rulings. Out of the pool of 200, 12 jurors
and four alternates will be charged with determining whether Kenneth
Fitzhugh killed his wife of 33 years last May. Elia has said that
he is hopefully the case can begin as early as next week.
Jurors filled out a questionnaire answering more than 50 questions
on everything from their personal experience with police, their
media exposure to the case, and their knowledge of potential witnesses.
One prospective juror, concerned that she didn't have enough legal
expertise to sit on the case, was assured by Elia that "no one in
this courtroom is an expert on the law."
Well, almost no one, he quickly added.