Potential carjack jurors questioned Basu murder trial to start Monday HOWARD COUNTY

April 06, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Questioning of potential jurors for the Pam Basu murder case began yesterday with about 80 Howard County residents answering lawyers' inquiries.

Another 200 are expected to be questioned today and tomorrow, with 12 jurors plus alternates to be chosen to hear testimony in the Howard Circuit Court trial of Bernard Eric Miller, 17, of Washington.

Mr. Miller is charged with first-degree murder and 18 other counts in the Sept. 8 carjack slaying of Dr. Basu, a research chemist from Savage.

Because of the Easter holiday, the trial is to start Monday and continue for up to two weeks.

Nearly all questioning yesterday was conducted behind the closed doors of a conference room, with only the jury candidates, Judge Dennis Sweeney, the lawyers and Mr. Miller present.

In most trials, a judge reads a question aloud in open court and potential jurors who want to respond go to the judge's bench for a private discussion with attorneys in the case.

Court Administrator John Shatto said Judge Sweeney and attorneys in the Miller case had agreed beforehand to privately question potential jurors.

The private interviews will expedite a process that can be long and tedious, particularly for potential jurors, Mr. Shatto said.

"It speeds the process along," he said. "We're trying to get them out of here as quickly as possible."

Mr. Shatto noted that people are usually more candid talking in private than whispering in front of other potential jurors.

Before starting the private sessions, Judge Sweeney asked if any jury candidate was related to or acquainted with Mr. Miller, who stood and faced them. No one responded. Potential jurors were then escorted individually to a room.

Each interview lasted about five minutes, with prospective jurors answering whether they had ever been a victim of crime, whether they had heard or read anything about the case in the media and whether they had formed opinions about Mr. Miller's guilt or innocence, among other questions.

After the first round of questioning, 45 people were expected to be qualified as potential jurors.

These people, along with potential jurors from today and tomorrow, will be called to court Thursday for attorneys to make their final selections. Officials want at least 75 qualified jurors before the attorneys start picking from the pool.

"We're moving right along right now," said Laurack Bray, a Washington attorney for Mr. Miller.

"At this point, we must assume we can get a fair and impartial jury."

Vicki Tunning, a North Laurel single mother of three children, said she was excused from jury duty after she told court officials that the trial would cause a financial hardship for her family.

Ms. Tunning said she doesn't think she would have been picked for the jury anyway.

A U.S. Postal Service employee, she recalled that she heard about the slaying as she went to work the day it occurred.

"I don't think I could have been impartial," she said.

Dr. Basu, who worked at W. R. Grace & Co. in Columbia, was forced from her BMW at an intersection near her Savage home. Her 22-month-old daughter was in the car, but was later put out of it unharmed.

If convicted, Mr. Miller would face a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole Prosecutor are prohibited from seeking the death penalty for juveniles, under state law.

The case of co-defendant Rodney Eugene Soloman, 27, of Washington has been moved to Baltimore County, but a trial date has not been set. If convicted, Mr. Soloman could face the death penalty.

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