DETROIT - UPDATE: 1:00 p.m.
The pace certainly picked up this morning in the 3rd day of jury selection in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial which included the first black juror being moved through to the pool of 66 and defense counsel identifying what they believed to be a stealth juror.
The morning session in Federal Judge Nancy Edmunds's courtroom began somewhat late with former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, attired in a dark suit with white pinstripes, green tie and Clark Kent-style glasses, arriving a full half hour late.
Judge Edmunds opened the session by informing the court that she would be giving jurors group instructions on the concepts of presumption of innocence, circumstantial and direct evidence and cooperating witnesses in an attempt to tighten the process. She also relayed that one juror from the 18 last week had been excused due to hardship.
In sharp contrast to some of the negative thoughts and opinions from last week when one excused juror conveyed how he had heard the defendants referred to as "gangsters" and "thugs", one juror commented this morning how Bobby Ferguson was called a "rock star" by fellow card players.
And in a crucial move, the first black juror, a male, finally made the cut into the group of 66.
But the real drama came when Bobby Ferguson's lawyer Mike Rataj questioned the third juror of the morning. Rataj, a former U.S. Marine, steadily gained momentum as he questioned the juror who was formerly involved with the military.
The lawyer got the potential juror to admit that he was an avid follower of the news, particularly politics, and that until recent instruction by Judge Edmunds, he had followed trials involving some of the co-defendants quite closely. The juror also admitted under questioning that he had found Kwame Kilpatrick's affair with Christine Beatty to be offensive and that he had called Kwame "corrupt" and a "liar" in conversation.
But when Rataj asked "Do you want to sit on the jury and finish the job the first jury did not?"- a reference to the recent mistrial relating to Bobby Ferguson- the juror countered that he believed that to be an unfair characterization.
When it came time to determine whether the juror would make it through to the next round, defense counsel gave Challenge for Cause with Rataj stating "if this is not a stealth juror, I don't know what is."
Judge Edmunds denied the challenge stating that she believed the juror had a strong sense of integrity as he didn't waffle when answering his questions and had made clear a real commitment to the system of justice and thus was in a position to evaluate the current case impartially.
To date, there are now 20 jurors moved through to the round of 66.
Day 3 concluded this evening with a second African-American juror making it into the next phase of jury selection. The juror is a female.
Another possible African-American addition to potential jurors is on hold while the court ascertains if she can overcome a hardship to participate in a jury trial.
One white, male juror was dismissed from jury duty today when he admitted that he didn't believe in programs that gave an advantage to minority contractors and thus could probably not remain impartial to the defendants. And yet another juror, a white female, was excused when she recognized U.S. Attorney Eric Doeh as he stood up to question her.
At times appearing to struggle to stay awake, the defendants mostly listened carefully as jurors were questioned. There was much less joking and bantering going on between Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson today. Bernard Kilpatrick mostly kept to himself except to talk briefly with his son during a 15 minute recess. Former Water and Sewerage Department Head Victor Mercado is so quiet in his remote corner of the defense table that he blends into the background and it is easy to forget that he is even there until his lawyers mention him.
All told, 10 jurors were questioned today. The number of potential jurors that have moved on is now 23, just over a third of the way to the desired 66.
Jury selection continues tomorrow at 9 am.
Day 3 begins:
Day three dawns today in jury selection of the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial.
During the last two hearings of jury selection, 18 possible jurors were filtered into a pool that will total 66. That number will ultimately be whittled down to 12 jurors and 6 alternates.
Federal judge Nancy Edmunds set the tone by making it clear she will not tolerate any nonsense in her courtroom and highlighted the need to maintain juror privacy.
The former Detroit mayor has seemed confident and upbeat throughout most of the proceedings as has his friend and co-defendant, contractor Bobby Ferguson. Bernard Kilpatrick, Kwame's father, remained mostly serious and quiet while former Water and Sewerage Department head Victor Mercado sat almost completely stone-faced and impassive.
Prosecutors have enlisted the services of LA-based jury consultant Richard Gabriel who worked the O.J. Simpson trial and more recently helped the defense in the Casey Anthony case.
Defense counsel, meanwhile, is struggling to sit a racially diverse jury. Most of the 18 possible jurors are white.
The only three African-Americans to come before the court in jury selection last week, two females and a male, were all excused.
Jury selection continues at 10 a.m.
Opened statements are scheduled to start by Friday.
The defendants in the so-called "Kilpatrick Enterprise" are accused of a sweeping corruption scheme. The Kilpatricks are accused of shaking down contractors who wanted business or favors from Detroit city hall.
All have pleaded not guilty. Kilpatrick was mayor until fall 2008 when he resigned in an unrelated scandal.
About the author:
Alexandra Harland is a Princeton undergrad and has a masters degree in International affairs with Columbia. A Montreal native, she worked with the Daily Telegraph newspaper for a few years before transitioning to TV, when she worked at ABC News with Peter Jennings. Alexandra has also worked in newsrooms in both Detroit and Boston.
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