eletebodycopy Looking over the 10 surviving potential jurors seated in the Barton County Courthouse jury box Wednesday afternoon, Adam Longoria defense attorney Jeff Wicks asked a pointed question.
“Can anyone sitting here say that, ‘based on what I’ve heard, I think Mr. Longoria is guilty.’” All 10 shook their heads and said “no.”
The trial for Longoria, the man accused of killing 14-year-old Alicia DeBolt after attempting to sexually assault her the night of Aug. 21, 2010, is set to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday and expected to last well into next week. DeBolt’s charred remains were found on Aug. 24, 2010, one day after she was to have started her freshman year at Great Bend High School.
Wicks’ question was a sign the jury selection process, which had ground into its third tedious afternoon, was nearly over. Those responding were the remnants of the fifth panel. The panels contained around 18 jury candidates who were ushered into the courtroom in three groups of between 30-36 a piece, one group each day since Monday.
By the end of proceedings at 2 p.m. Wednesday, the roughly 180 potential jurors who had undergone the meticulous voir dire process was culled down to 44. Attorneys needed a pool of at least 42 to select a final jury of 14.
That final selection will take place this morning prior to the start of opening statements.
It had been three days of grueling questioning, emotional moments and humor.
Some potential jurors were dismissed after breaking down into tears over being asked how they would handle looking at gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos.
There was the potential juror who drew laughs from those in the courtroom when he was interviewed by prosecutor Kevin O’Connor with the Office of Kansas Attorney General on day one. “I’d like to see the state do some work,” the man said.
Another prospect had initially indicated that serving on a jury would be a hardship because of his job. But, he found out his company would pay him for jury duty. “That’s not a problem now,” he joked.
The same juror also traveled for a living and was the only one in the pool who had not heard of the case. “We should get you a certificate,” O’Connor quipped.
However, O’Connor said Wednesday, “this is a very, very serious case. We may use laughter to get you comfortable, but we understand and appreciate the seriousness of this.”
O’Connor and Wicks, who is with the Kansas Death Penalty Defense Unit, over and over again made the panelists understood the concepts of intent, circumstantial and direct evidence, burden of proof, proof beyond a reasonable doubt and the rights of the accused.
Although this is considered a capital murder case, the death penalty is not an option. The jury will not determine punishment.
They were also repeatedly reminded they had to base their decisions solely on the evidence presented in court, not prior knowledge or media reports. And, the lawyers said, the case is reality and is nothing like television dramas.
“This is part of our core rights as a citizen of the United States,” O’Connor said. “We all deserve a fair trial. We want to pick the best jury possible to hear this case.”
There will be objections, heated discussions and disturbing testimony. A juror has to be able to stomach all of the above and still weigh the case fairly, O’Connor said.
Eventually, the judge will give instructions to the jury. “Those instructions are the law of the case. You have to follow them,” O’Connor said.
All of the called for jury duty had already filled out a questionnaire covering their backgrounds. Topics included familiarity with the case and attitudes towards it, if they’d ever been a victim of a crime, if they knew the defendant or the victim, and if they new any of the potential witnesses. There were also health questions.
The potential jurors were asked about their responses as a group and individually. One after another, most were told they could leave.
“It is our responsibility to prove the defendant guilty, not the defense’s responsibility to prove the defendant innocent,” O’Connor said. “You have to decide this case based on what you hear in court” and not from the news media, social media or talk on the street.
“We realize you may be reluctant to be here,” said Barton County District Judge Hannelore Kitts, who is presiding over the case. “But when you think back to your government class, this is how the system works.
“You shouldn’t look at this as a duty,” she said. “This is something we enjoy as citizens of the United States. It’s a privilege.