DETROIT - There was a flurry of activity this morning on the fourth day of jury selection in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial.
On this 11th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, a heightened security presence could be felt with Homeland Security vehicles parked outside the courthouse, as dogs sniffed around the building.
Inside the federal Judge Nancy Edmunds' courtroom, a further 2 jurors made it through to the next round of 66. That brings the total count to 25 with one juror, an African-American female, still on hold.
For the first time, Former Water and Sewerage Department Head Victor Mercado was last to arrive in court with his lawyer John Minock arriving just as court was convening. Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and contractor Bobby Ferguson, both in matching dark pinstripe suites, walked in together followed closed by Mr. Kilpatrick's father Bernard.
The morning got off to a charged start as defense lawyers grilled the first potential juror, a white male IT manager. It was clear that the juror had defense counsel concerned as he had mentioned in his questionnaire that "where there is smoke there is fire" in reference to the controversy and scandal attached to Kwame Kilpatrick. He added that when elected, Mr. Kilpatrick generated much "youthful energy and excitement" but "did not live up to expectations".
Gerald Evelyn, one of the lawyers for Bobby Ferguson, got the juror on the stand to concede that he was probably "not an ideal juror for this case" due to media exposure previous to the case but could still remain impartial to the case.
When it came time to decide whether to excuse or move the juror on, defense challenged for cause stating that they believed the juror would be unable to set aside preconceptions with opinions that were already strongly formed and that he was possibly still being exposed to media coverage.
In a blow to defense, Judge Edmunds denied because saying there was no such thing as an ideal juror as everyone had been exposed to some extent to media coverage. Edmunds also pointed out that the juror said over and over again that he could be fair and impartial and set any preconceptions aside.
Another juror, a male, who thought "it would be cool" and an honor to do his civic duty by being on the jury, also moved through to next phase of jury selection. Two other jurors, both white males, were excused. One juror was dismissed due to a possible problem with retention of information while the other juror was excused because his background in law was deemed to give him too much specialized knowledge on the case.
Update: 1 p.m.
Two more female white jurors have moved through to the next phase of jury selection.
The first, a retiree with a business background, answered calmly and clearly as she told lawyers that she felt it would be an honor to serve on the jury. She also explained that despite answering on her questionnaire that she felt former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick had hurt the image of the city, she didn't have an opinion on the defendants.
The second juror to make the next round told the court that she would do her best job to be objective and listen to all the facts. Defense lawyers pressed the technical writer on why she responded in her questionnaire that "Detroit needs to find honest mayors that can rebuild the city." The juror answered that she felt only that "there should be less drama and more work" and that she didn't feel that the former mayor was dishonest.
Defense counsel challenged for cause saying that they didn't believe she had been candid in her answers when questioned. Mike Rataj, Bobby Ferguson's lawyer, claimed the juror was evasive in answering defense questions and that he believed this was another stealth juror.
Judge Nancy Edmunds ruled to deny cause. Edmunds stated that the juror had been straightforward in answering her questions and had said repeatedly that she would base her verdict on the facts and had no preconceptions that could not be set aside.
A third juror, a Hispanic male, was excused when it was revealed that he was related through marriage to Juan Mateo, a lawyer who has previously represented Kwame Kilpatrick.
The tally on jurors moved through thus far is 27 including two African-American jurors. A third African-American juror is on hold until it is determined she can serve on the jury.
Court reconvenes after lunch at 1:30 p.m.
As of end of court session this afternoon, 31 jurors have been moved through to next phase of jury selection as we near the half-way point to the targeted 66.
One of the jurors called back is an African-American female. Thus far there are only 2 other African-Americans, a male and a female, who have moved forward in jury selection. Another African-American female is pending until it is determined that she can overcome a hardship to serve on the jury.
Also moving forward is a civil servant who described Kwame Kilpatrick as "arrogant and self-centered" on her questionnaire, a male independent contractor and a U.S. Navy veteran who made it through despite reservations about his hesitancy at serving on the jury. All three jurors are white.
Amongst jurors excused was one woman who was concerned that the length of the trial would impede her ability to look for employment and care for her elderly mother. Another juror, a white female, was excused after defense counsel took issue with her answering on her questionnaire that "I think everyone is getting sick of the race card being pulled" when talking about the current state of racial relations.
There were moments of levity in the proceedings today. After a 5 minute court recess ended, Judge Edmunds joked "You're a Lone Ranger Mr. Ferguson" as the contractor sat alone at an empty defense table When the civil servant was asked if she had any problems with racially charged language, she answered that due to the nature of her job she has been "cussed out" several times and "you can swear at the old white woman as much as you want but the answer will still be no." And when the Navy veteran was asked what he thought looking at Bernard Kilpatrick, he replied simply "He looks like a nice young man."
Court reconvenes Wednesday.
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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