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The Kristine Fitzhugh Case

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 case

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 and today.

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.




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