October 14, 2006 in Idaho

Duncan jury selection closed

Taryn Brodwater Staff writer
 
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Questionnaire sent to 800 potential jurors for Duncan trial./B3

The public and news media will not be allowed to watch jury selection in the Joseph Duncan murder-kidnapping trial that begins Monday in Coeur d’Alene.

First District Judge Fred Gibler ruled Friday that the accused killer’s “right to a fair trial outweighs the right of the press” and the public to watch as potential jurors are questioned by attorneys in the case.

The jury selection process is called voir dire.

Gibler said he had privacy concerns about jurors’ answers to sensitive and “potentially embarrassing” questions being broadcast to the public.

The judge also expressed concern that prospective jurors who had not yet been questioned may see or hear news reports and could be influenced by answers other potential jurors had given.

He questioned whether jurors would be candid and answer questions honestly if they knew the media were taking notes.

“This case is not an ordinary case in any sense of the word,” Gibler said. “It’s not even an ordinary case for a capital case.”

Gibler considered allowing the press and public to watch voir dire via closed-circuit television in an overflow courtroom, but he said that didn’t address his concerns for jurors’ privacy.

“I think it could have an adverse effect on the jurors,” he said. “I don’t view allowing the press and public to view the voir dire as a good option.”

Public Defender John Adams, who made the motion to close voir dire, said Friday that if Gibler denied the motion, he wanted the judge to lift the gag order he imposed on the attorneys Thursday.

Adams said the judge’s order not to talk publicly about the case prevents him from discussing plea negotiations, which Adams indicated were continuing.

Gibler issued the gag order, saying he was concerned about news reports on a plea offer Duncan made and Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas rejected.

Duncan said in the plea offer that he would admit to the murders and kidnapping of Brenda Matthews Groene, her 13-year-old son, Slade, and her fiancé, Mark McKenzie.

He said he would also admit to kidnapping Shasta and Dylan Groene, murdering Dylan and other crimes against the children that he hasn’t yet been charged with.

Federal prosecutors have said those charges will be filed against Duncan once the state’s triple-murder case concludes.

In exchange, Duncan asked Douglas not to seek the death penalty. The death penalty in the federal case would remain on the table, however, Duncan conceded.

The Spokesman-Review filed a motion late Thursday opposing the closure of voir dire. Attorney Joel Hazel told Gibler there was a great deal of public interest in the case and seeing how the judicial process works.

“The citizens and the press have the right to be involved when the stakes are this high,” Hazel said.

Hazel said he didn’t believe Adams or Douglas, who also supports closing voir dire, had proved that conducting the questioning in public would be prejudicial to Duncan.

Gibler said he wouldn’t allow the public to watch the questioning of jurors, but transcripts of the proceedings will be released once a jury is seated.

Twelve jurors will be chosen, along with three alternates.

If a jury can’t be chosen from the pool of 800 potential jurors, Gibler said he may reconsider an earlier motion for a change of venue.


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