Today in court Judge Denise J. Casper became more involved in the jury selection. Judge Casper has a tendency to speak softly so I was not able to gather in all she said but that may be more my problem than hers. I am pleased with the way she has taken control of the case. She is clearly in charge of the trial and seems to be handling it in a skillful, intelligent and controlled manner. Her mild manner conceals an interior of steel. Her decisions today on the jurors show a judge deeply committed to fairness who explains her thought process behind her decisions. She treats the potential jurors with a high degree of consideration. She’s a breath of fresh air.
What has happened up to now is the jury filled out questionnaires; the judge and attorneys reviewing those eliminated a fair amount of the jurors based on their answers; and today the court brought back in those who it wanted to question further about some of the answers they had given.
When I arrived I was told there were 10 seats reserved for the public and press in the courtroom on a first come/first serve basis. The press secured 9 and a member of the public grabbed one. I was among the 9. US Attorney Carmen Ortiz made an appearance. Someone among the press group said to her she had a lovely jacket on. It was mint green color. She thanked the person, smiled and sat down in the first row.
Whitey came in wearing a forest green pull over long sleeve shirt, dark jeans, and white sneakers. He looked old today. He walked slowly like an old guy and he seemed smaller. I’d guess he was only about 5’ 5” tall which surprised me. The people around him who aren’t really that tall tower over him. After a few preliminary matters of little import including the judge saying Howie Carr would not be subject to the sequestration order the jurors were brought in.
About 90 jurors slowly filled the court room coming in 5 or 10 at a time and seated by numbers. The attorneys stood and watched closely as this motley crew was assembled. Whitey also stood and had an angry frown on his face that wasn’t going to endear him to any of the jurors. I got a side view of him and his once trim muscular body has seemed to change into a old guys profile: the belly showing itself slightly larger than chest which seems sunken in a bit; the product of being locked in a cell for 2 years.
Judge Casper addressed the jurors and they filed out of the room again. They would come back in one by one if there were further questions to ask them. The procedure was repeated in the afternoon with another 90 or so.
The jurors were a true reflection of American society with a little bit of everything included in it. Sit in a shopping mall and watch the next 180 people walk by you and that’s the jury that you would have seen in today’s court. Most of the rest of the morning into the early afternoon was consumed by the individual questioning of jurors. Several had criminal justice system involvement, others were afraid of the affect the long service would have on their jobs, others had medical problems, and there was little dispute among counsel over who should be retained or who should be dismissed for cause.
One slight dispute happened when a juror filled out the form on Monday and said she had an opinion which was that Whitey was guilty; she came back today and said that was not her opinion now and she could keep an open mind. The government thought she’d be a good juror; defense counsel didn’t. She was excused by the judge. The same result occurred when a juror who worked in a DA’s office said she could judge the case on the evidence.
It looks like tomorrow they’ll be a short session where the counsel can use their peremptory challenges: those are challenges that can be made without giving a reason for them. Unless something unusual comes up we should have a jury by tomorrow and opening statements will begin on Wednesday.
I’ll tell you one thing, it’s best to stay out of trouble and avoid court. You really would not want any of these people sitting in decision of your fate. They are such a blank slate for all practical purposes.
I should mention that the special questioning was done by having the juror sit at one end of a table; to her immediate left sat the judge, and the three prosecutors; to the right sat the court reporter the two defense lawyers and at the end of the table was the seat for Whitey. Opposite that seat was the seat for Prosecutor Wyshak. I was looking forward to seeing Whitey sitting on the other side of the table from him. Wyshak made sure the face-to-face never happened by moving his chair as far away from the table as possible. Wyshak would not show up in the afternoon.
One other note, I would have figured anyone who read O’Neill & Lehr’s book Black Mass would have been immediately excluded but that was not the case. If, despite that, a juror said she would not let that have an effect on her decision she was kept in the pool.