Jury selection starts in carjacking trial

August 03, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

A judge questioned 42 potential jurors yesterday on their attitudes about race, the death penalty and other matters as a Washington man went on trial in the carjacking death of Pam Basu.

Those selected will begin hearing testimony this week in the trial of Rodney Eugene Solomon, 27, who could face the death penalty if convicted in the Sept. 8, 1992, slaying of the research scientist.

Dr. Basu became entangled in a seat belt as she was forced from her car and was dragged nearly two miles to her death as the assailants sped off. Her 22-month-old daughter, who was in the vehicle's back seat during the carjacking, was unharmed.

The crime occurred near Dr. Basu's home in Savage, but the trial

was moved to Baltimore County Circuit Court after defense attorneys said Mr. Solomon could not get a fair trial in Howard County.

A co-defendant, Bernard Eric Miller, 17, of Washington, is serving a life sentence for his role in the slaying. He was convicted in Howard County Circuit Court in April.

Prosecutors say Mr. Solomon drove the car and was the leader in a "partnership of crime."

Of those questioned yesterday, 25 were qualified as potential jurors.

One by one, the prospective jurors were brought into the chambers of Judge Dana Mark Levitz for interviews by the judge as Mr. Solomon and the teams of prosecutors and defense attorneys looked on.

Most of those questioned said they had heard of or read about the carjacking, which received national attention and prompted federal and state laws against the crime.

Some said the testimony in the trial would be so emotionally difficult that they could not put aside their feelings.

"Pam Basu was horrendously murdered," one woman said as she broke into tears. "I feel that the two of them were guilty."

The woman was one of eight people excused from serving on the jury after saying they could not reach a fair verdict.

Four potential jurors were excused after saying they believed that anyone convicted of murder should receive the death penalty.

"If somebody is going to kill someone, they should be killed," one man said. "It should be an eye for an eye."

To further screen the potential jurors, Judge Levitz asked questions focusing on whether the fact that Mr. Solomon is black and most of the victims and witnesses in the case are white would bias them. None of them said race would be an issue for them.

Public defender Carol Hanson wanted the judge to ask the potential jurors specific questions, such as whether they had ever told racist jokes, used racial slurs or gone to dinner with a black person.

Judge Levitz denied Ms. Hanson's request, saying, "I don't think [the questions] are relevant. I don't think it's appropriate."

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