DETROIT - UPDATE: 1:15 p.m.
There was a palpable shift in the courtroom this morning as it seemed that the government struggled more with jury selection than the defense.
Two more jurors moved forward, including an African-American female, in a particularly charged session of questioning.
A white, male juror made it through to the next round of jury selection after stating "My father was a racist but I don't have those same feelings. My daughter married a black man."
An African-American medical assistant told the court that based on impressions she had from older people, she had answered on her questionnaire that former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick had "probably messed up for another young person to become mayor again." Commenting on the current state of racial relations, the juror expressed that she did feel that racism was still ongoing in certain places and that she believed that sometimes African-Americans were judged more harshly based on a history of discrimination.
Much of the tension, however, centered around whether the juror felt she could find the defendants guilty if the government proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Although there seemed to be some confusion on the juror's part, she ultimately answered that she could.
U.S. Attorney Eric Doeh said that despite some serious concerns with the juror he felt there was probably not enough to challenge for cause. Judge Edmunds agreed and moved the juror through.
One other juror, a white male, was excused when the judge agreed with the defense that he seemed to be too swayed by media coverage and there was too much equivocation in his responses for him to be able to sit on the jury.
Contractor Bobby Ferguson hugged his lawyer Michael Rataj as the court recessed for lunch, obviously happy with the turn of events.
This morning's decisions were pivotal in a case that has highlighted race. Thus far there are only 5 African-American jurors moved forward with one pending.
35 jurors have been selected for the next phase of jury selection.
UPDATE: 9 a.m.
Day 5 in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial began with the admission of a male African-American juror into the next phase of jury selection. It is a crucial move for the defense in a case that has seen only 3 other African-Americans, one male and two females, selected towards a pool of 66 potential jurors. Another African-American juror, a woman, is still on hold pending determination of her ability to attend trial.
The court session in federal Judge Nancy Edmunds' courtroom began at almost 9:20am this morning with a group instruction to 9 potential jurors. The judge again clarified the important trial concepts of presumption of innocence, direct and circumstantial evidence and co-operating witnesses.
The first juror to be questioned this morning was an African-American who is both working and studying towards the completion of his Bachelor of Arts. The juror told the court that his main source of news was his "news junkie" sister whose only opinion on former mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick is that he is "a really good dresser". He also revealed that he believes some races are stereotyped and that many times people are thought of as guilty until proven innocent. Despite a friend's personal experience with what he believed to be discrimination at the hands of law enforcement, he felt he could remain impartial to both sides of the case. The sales advocate sailed through to the next phase without any challenge.
A white retired sales representative also moved forward in jury selection. Despite some personal qualms with Affirmative Action, the juror promised that he could separate his feelings from his intellectual understanding of the necessity of certain programs to give minorities a leg up.
Joining the media pool this morning was a reporter from Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet who had come to catch some of the courtroom action as part of a 10 day stay reporting on the city of Detroit.
Thus far we have reached the exact midway point with 33 jurors moved through.
Jury selection ended abrubtly this afternoon when the federal judge Nancy Edmunds declared court adjourned after a heated discussion at sidebar and summoned all counsel into her chambers.
After the lunch recess, the first juror, a white female whose husband is a newspaper junkie, made it into the next phase of jury selection despite a challenge from Mike Rataj, one of Bobby Ferguson's defense lawyers. Rataj argued that the juror had an opinion that the defendants were guilty based on an answer in her questionnaire and had already pre-judged the case.
Judge Edmunds denied the challenge for cause saying that the juror had said she respects the constitution, believes in the presumption of innocence and would want herself on the jury if she were one of the defendants. Edmunds also admonished the defense for taking perfectly acceptable jurors and trying to make them seem unacceptable.
Other jurors who made it into the jury pool included a Hispanic male and two African-American females. One of those two female jurors ,who quoted Scriptures saying "Judge not lest ye be judged", went completely uncontested into the next phase of jury selection.
The other African-American female juror was challenged by U.S. Attorney Eric Doeh. The government lawyer felt that the juror had clearly indicated during questionning that she didn't want to be there. The juror, when asked if she felt the government might have charged some of the defendants because they were black, had also responded "maybe so".
A white, male marketing executive was excused when he could not guarantee that he could set aside his preconceptions to serve on the jury.
By the end of day, 40 people had been filtered into the final pool of 66. Of those, 8 are African-American, 1 is Hispanic, 1 Asian and 30 are white.
The African American female juror who had been on hold due to hardship has made it through. The judge talked to her employer and she will be paid full benefits throughout the course of the trial should she make the final 18.
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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