DETROIT - The former Detroit mayor faces some serious charges.
The largest corruption trial in the city's history is getting under way.
Extortion, fraud, threats, bribery and obstruction of justice are among the federal charges against Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, contractor Bobby Ferguson and former water department boss Victor Mercado. The four defendants could get 20 years in prison if convicted. Twelve jurors will decide if that happens, which of course means the jury selection is a crucial part to the conspiracy trial.
"I think this trial is won or lost in the jury selection," said Adolph Mongo, a political consultant.
Mongo says Detroit is a racially-charged city and that will shine through in the Kilpatrick trial.
"This is like the biggest fight in the history of Detroit politics in the last 50 years. This is Detroit's version of the Thriller in Manila," Mongo said.
The search for 12 fair, unbiased jurors started with almost 500 people. The prospective jurors turned in written answers to questions such as, "Are there racial groups you are uncomfortable being around?" and "Do you believe African Americans are more likely to commit crimes than whites?" and "What do you think of the current state of racial relations in the United States?"
The answers to those questions, among others, helped root out racists and those who have already made up their minds on either side.
Of the 200 remaining people, who do the defendants want?
"Black females. Some black males who think that the government has just been messing with Kwame," said radio talk show host Mildred Gadis. "And probably a couple of white guys who are anti government."
Gadis is host of Inside Detroit, a talk radio show which focuses on city issues. Her coverage of the Kilpatrick administration has been extensive. She believes the former Detroit mayor is putting on a show for potential jurors by confidently smiling, waiving and hugging people as he walks the streets of Detroit. Gadis says Kilpatrick seems almost to be flirting with potential women voters with his sharp suits, glasses and million-dollar smile.
"He has been campaigning in the city of Detroit hoping to appeal to someone, specifically a female, black female, who might end up on the jury," Gadis said.
Kilpatrick also is trying to appeal to African American men by saying he can't get a fair trial and "I would be better off if they hung me from the giant fist downtown. Gadis says the hope for Kilpatrick is that people see him as a victim being charged only because he was a powerful African American mayor.
"You might get somebody who says, 'Well, you know what, I got a son or I know somebody that has been railroaded, and these young black men they put them in prison at an alarming rate and you got a guy who used to be the mayor and they treat him like he's nothing,'" said Mongo.
Mongo says there are many African Americans who see Kilpatrick as a victim of a largely white criminal justice system that has a history of charging African Americans for things white Americans get away with all the time.
On the other hand, Mongo says, the majority of African Americans in Metro Detroit are livid that Kilpatrick let them down as mayor and that he may have stolen their future in a plot to steal millions of city tax dollars.
The question is: Who ends up on the jury and can any 12 jurors agree unanimously when it comes to Kwame Kilpatrick?
"The No. 1 goal, I think, is to get a hung jury. I think this is the best that they can get," Mongo said.
During the next week, the prosecution and defense will question the 200 plus remaining potential jurors until they dwindle the number down to 18 people they believe can be most fair. The six left out of the jury will be alternates in case a juror has to leave for unexpected reasons during the trial which is expected to last four months.
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