M.L. Elrick: Kilpatrick jury pool gets more diverse after Day 3 - FOX 32 News Chicago

M.L. Elrick: Kilpatrick jury pool gets more diverse after Day 3

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Attorney Jim Thomas (left) and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (right) arrive at federal court in Detroit on Monday. Attorney Jim Thomas (left) and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (right) arrive at federal court in Detroit on Monday.
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DETROIT (MyFox Detroit) -

After three days and three dozen potential jurors, the pool of candidates to sit in judgment over Detroit's former mayor and his associates got a lot more diverse Monday.

Of the 24 people who have so far passed muster to become potential jurors, six represent minority groups. We now have two black women, a black man, an East Asian man, a woman who appears to be Middle Eastern and a woman who appears to be a Native American.

Why do I say "potential jurors?" Because becoming a juror means surviving a two-step process. Think of it as a double-elimination tournament. The first round is designed to create a pool of 66 people whom U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds deems capable of impartially hearing the evidence against Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard, contractor and Kilpatrick pal Bobby Ferguson, and former Detroit Water and Sewerage honcho Victor Mercado. Lawyers for both sides are expected to spend several more days questioning candidates and arguing who should be in that pool.

After the 66 are chosen, the lawyers will whittle it down to 12 jurors and 6 alternates (who can step in if a juror becomes incapacitated). The power shifts to the lawyers in this round, because each side gets several peremptory challenges that allow them to eliminate potential jurors even if Edmunds thinks they're OK.

There is both an art and a science to picking a jury. In this case, it may not be so much about picking the right 12 people as picking the right one person -- especially since some of the defense lawyers acknowledge privately that all they need is to get one person on the jury who will refuse to convict their clients. This may seem like a long shot, but prosecutors so far have been robbed of convictions in the case of political consultant Sam Riddle and a bid rigging case brought against Ferguson earlier this year because each jury included a lone hold-out who refused to convict. (Riddle, who was tried a few years ago, ultimately cut a plea deal and went to prison to avoid a re-trial and a possible longer sentence. Ferguson is scheduled to be re-tried after this bigger case is concluded.)  With all the emphasis on diversity, it's worth noting that the defendants and their lawyers don't just want ANY minorities on the jury.

What do I mean by that? Well, the defense joined with prosecutors in asking the judge to dismiss the first three black people to come before them as potential jurors.

The first woman clearly did not want to be there. First, she arrived late. Then she acknowledged that injuries from a car accident may make it hard for her to sit through the trial. What finally got her ticket home punched was telling the lawyers that she couldn't sit in judgment over anyone because she wasn't God.

"I can't judge anybody," she said. "That's why I don't want to be here."

The second woman had two problems. She was insistent that she didn't think she could abide by the judge's order to avoid media coverage of the trial (which also defied the 2005 order from former mayor's mother to "Turn off that television, y'all!"). Then she said she could lose her job and go broke if she had to report for jury duty from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day for four months for a measly $50 a day (plus mileage).

All of that seemed like small beans after the man made the scene.

Mere minutes after he started answering questions he had even the Kilpatricks and Ferguson cracking up when he said he wasn't sure whether he knew any of the people on the witness list.

"I worked around a lot of people who had street names, like Alabama or Mississippi," he said, going on to explain that while he didn't recognize the witnesses by their given names, he might know them by their street name.

Still, Edmunds' desire for a diverse jury was so strong that the man appeared likely to survive issues like disclosing that he heard the defendants described as thieves, gangsters and thugs and figured they were bad, even though he hadn't heard the evidence yet. (He added that his mind could be changed, however, and he said of Kwame Kilpatrick's affair with his chief of staff Christine Beatty: "That's his life. I have no judgment on anybody else's relationships.") It also emerged that he wrote that the defendants were "dumb, dumb, dumb" when asked of his opinion on a jury questionnaire given last month to hundreds of potential jurors.

What ultimately got this cat broomed was when, on his way out of the courtroom and apparently on his way to the next round, he disclosed that he had three pre-paid vacations coming up in the next three months.

And so, last week ended without any blacks on the jury. All sides were almost certainly, at least privately, relieved when three passed muster Monday.

John Shea, the attorney for Bernard Kilpatrick, told me last Friday that a diverse jury is important not only in evaluating evidence properly and fairly judging the defendants, but for the big picture issue of how the justice system is perceived.

"How is society going to view it if you've got an all-white jury standing in judgment of four defendants, three of whom are African-Americans of some prominence in the city, who've been through an investigation for as long as this investigation has been going on?" he told me outside the courthouse. "How is the community going to view that kind of process?  In this respect, the government may have as much interest in a diverse jury as we do.  Because however this comes out, people are going to be able to want to walk away and say alright, at least that part of the process seemed to be fair."

It's a good point, which is why it will likely take us more than the week Edmunds had set aside to pick a jury that everyone believes will act in their best interest.

Follow M.L. Elrick's coverage of the Kilpatrick & Co. trial every day on Fox 2 and at www.myfoxdetroit.com. Contact him at ml.elrick@foxtv.com or via Twitter or Facebook.

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