Sides fence for advantage in selection of Lewis jury

At crucial juncture, defense, prosecution weed out antagonists

May 22, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - The ideal juror to sit in judgment of Ray Lewis is a middle-age white man, preferably an engineer or doctor, who views himself as conservative, sings in the church choir and has been the victim of a mugging over the past five years.

That is, of course, if you're the prosecutor.

If you're a lawyer representing the All-Pro Ravens linebacker or one of his co-defendants, you'd be looking for someone quite different this afternoon when the sides reconvene at the Fulton County Courthouse to complete jury selection.

Instead of a crime victim, you'd be looking for someone who has reason to be suspicious of the prosecutors and the police who will appear as witnesses. You'd be looking for someone who has been falsely accused of a crime, perhaps even arrested and later released without an apology by the police.

Typically, this would be an African-American, because they are more often victims of police harassment. And you'll want as many young men as possible.

That heart surgeon in your pool? Strike him immediately. They tend to be pro-prosecution and are not easily swayed by the emotional eloquence of a wily defense attorney.

"The worst are doctors and doctors' wives and accountants and engineers," said Dan Summer, a veteran defense attorney and former prosecutor from Gainesville, Ga., who is not involved in the case but has followed it in the news media.

"If I'm on the defense, I'm going to be looking for jurors who have had run-ins with the police, suspicions of police, sports enthusiasts, people with less education," Summer said."Generally speaking, prosecutors are looking for law-and-order types and people who are not going to be swayed by histrionics and by celebrity," he said.

Parties to the Lewis trial spent most of last week questioning prospective jurors in the case, probing their attitudes on race, crime, sports and other matters. And this after each prospect had filled out a 16-page questionnaire with more than 100 questions.

Over the weekend, the attorneys pored over the results, to decide how to exercise the limited number of "strikes" they are given to excuse prospects.

Today, they will begin with the main jury, going through a pool of 30 prospects. Prosecutors go first, striking any six they do not want. Then the defense goes, eliminating any 12 it doesn't want, leaving a final panel of 12.

Then they will do the same for alternates, cutting a list of 25 down to the five who will serve as "spares." Alternates fill in for jurors lost to emergencies during the three to five weeks the trial is expected to last.

Neither side would discuss in detail how it has gone about deciding what it wants. But one member of the Lewis defense team is a certified jury consultant.

And a man who sat in the audience last week throughout the juror questioning - making notes about each one - is thought by the defense to be a jury consultant working for the prosecutors.

Prosecutors declined to confirm or deny that the man was working for them, and he refused to identify himself.

Doug Colbert, a law professor at the University of Maryland, said both sides have reason to pay close attention to jury selection. "It's the most important stage of a criminal case," Colbert said.

Maryland procedure does not allow the open-ended questioning of jury prospects permitted in Georgia. Where that is done, the results can be highly useful to both sides.

"A lot of it has to do with nonverbal communication. While the questions are revealing, the way people go through the answers is very important," he said.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who is leading the prosecution team in the case, said: "We are just looking for somebody who will give us a fair trial, who will listen to the evidence and discount the media."

Veteran attorneys sometimes jokingly refer to the process as "jury deselection" rather than jury selection.

"What you are trying to do is get rid of the bad jurors," said Lewis' chief defense counsel, Edward T.M. Garland of Atlanta."The truth of jury selection is, it is a mystery. It is a crystal ball process," he said.

The prospective jurors viewed as bad for either side have been eliminated. Of the 150 registered voters called as prospects in this case, 41 were excused on the basis of their answers to the questionnaire. Of those, more than half said they had decided that Lewis is guilty.

Others wrote that they believe he is innocent or that they have family or work-related obligations that would prevent them from serving.

Defense attorneys have guaranteed themselves a mostly black jury. Sometimes, lawyers in high-profile cases ask to move the trial to a county where there has been less publicity. By agreeing to stay in Atlanta, the defense in this case has ensured a jury drawn from Fulton County's predominantly black population.

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