Opening statements in Harris murder trial could begin Monday

Judge tells prospective jurors that proceedings might last month or more

September 09, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

A jury in the trial of three men accused of killing former Baltimore City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris could be seated by Friday.

If it is — and there is no guarantee, given how long the selection has taken — opening statements would begin Monday. The trial could last a month or more, the judge told a room full of prospective jurors Thursday morning. When he asked them whether such a long trial would be a hardship, dozens of hands shot into the air.

The choice of a jury — a panel of 12, plus two alternates — began Sept. 2 and has been slogging along since, with a three-day break over the Labor Day weekend. The proceedings rarely get going before 11 a.m., despite a schedule that stipulates a 9:30 a.m. start.

By the time the process is completed, as many as 700 prospective jurors will have paraded through the courtroom in downtown Baltimore with what appear to be varying degrees of cooperation and reluctance. Most of the haggling over admissibility was conducted in a huddle at the bench of retired Baltimore Circuit Judge David Ross, beyond the earshot of those in the rest of the courtroom.

Each potential juror with an ostensible hardship complaint was asked to approach the judge for a chat, and did so within a couple of feet of the shackled defendants, who have a right to be at the bench along with the attorneys and prosecutors. Some of the prospective jurors were given leave to depart right away, while others — a minority, it seemed — were told to return to their seats.

"We should seat them tomorrow," Jerome A. Bivens, one of the three defense lawyers, said Thursday with what sounded like weariness. "We've got all our fingers and toes crossed."

The three defendants — Charles Y. McGaney, Gary A. Collins and Jerome Williams — face first-degree murder charges and other counts in the death of the former city official, who was shot during a holdup at a jazz club in the Northwood Shopping Center on Sept. 20, 2008.

"Don't be shy," a bailiff said Thursday morning as he urged prospective jurors to scoot along the rows of seats to make room for others. "We're going to become close friends here in the next couple of hours."

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