Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A moment, however brief, in the annals of justice

Belton – In a startlingly stoic performance, a Bell County mother told attorneys examining prospective jurors that though an offender killed and faced prosecution for murdering her child, she would do her best to form an opinion based only on testimony and evidence presented during the trial.

Prosecutor Murff Bledsoe referred to her by her first name and told the venire that he prosecuted the killer of the lady's child, then explained the law of parties, a Texas legal doctrine that allows the conviction of any party to an offense of capital murder if commission of the crime led to the death of a victim because the evidence and testimony proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused intentionally and knowingly planned the act.

The questioning came during jury selection in the trial of a trio of alleged murder-for-hire conspirators who have been indicted for killing a Ft. Hood soldier to get his life insurance benefits of $100,000.

“Do you think you could be a fair juror if you were on the jury?” Mr. Bledsoe asked the woman. He explained that sometimes a person is not suited to be on a particular jury because of circumstances beyond their control.

“It doesn't make you a bad person,” he said. “It just means you aren't right for that particular jury.”

Her answer was inaudible in the crowded first-floor courtroom where she sat on the front row, one of a hundred prospective veniremen summoned for jury selection.

Later, defense attorney Jack Holmes confronted the woman about the matter.

A former Temple police officer, Mr. Holmes who is representing Katherine “Katie” Briggs, a 28-year-old Austin woman who is accused of quarterbacking the conspiracy with John Valdez and Kyle Moesch, both 26, both former members of the First Armored Cavalry, to murder Sgt. Ryan Michael Sullivan by stabbing him with an unknown sharp instrument.

“One time I came back and my car had been burglarized,” he recounted. “I don't think I could give you a fair and impartial verdict based solely on the evidence of the case in the burglary of a car.”

When he asked the mother about her attitudes regarding sitting in judgment of the three accused capital murderers, she remained stoic and her affect was neutral.

“I would do my best,” she told the court.

Attorneys did not pick her to serve on the jury, which was empaneled at 7 p.m. after a grueling day of examination of jurors by the two prosecutors and six defense attorneys who are working in the case.

Earlier, defense attorney Steve Blythe, who is representing Kyle Moesch, asked the panel at large if any are members of victims' rights groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), or childrens' rights advocacy associations.

No one indicated that they are.

According to 246th District Judge Martha Trudo, the way a jury is picked in a criminal trial, the attorneys may strike for cause an unlimited number of veniremen whose answers show they will be unable to serve, either because of their attitudes, their experience, or their circumstances of having to provide care for a child or an elderly person, a lack of transportation, or a medical condition or appointment.

Each attorney receives the opportunity to make 21 peremptory challenges to prospective jurors, based only on their personal feeling that they would not make a suitable juror to determine the guilt or innocence of an accused offender.

The first 12 persons who are left following the process of winnowing the prospective panelists are chosen as the jurors, along with the next two, who will serve as alternate jurors.

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