The judge at Timothy McVeigh’s trial refused Thursday to make jury selection more open, insisting that shielding prospective jurors’ faces and deciding in secret which ones to excuse are necessary to ensure their privacy and objectivity.
U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, in turning down the request from news organizations, also said he didn’t want prospective jurors harassed by reporters, or by friends and relatives trying to influence them.
The identities of the prospective jurors have been kept hidden from the media since jury selection began Monday. They are questioned in open court, but behind a screen. Then closed meetings are held with attorneys in the judge’s chambers every morning to decide which ones should be excused.
The judge said that some people who are eventually selected for the jury might become prejudiced against one side or the other if they learned from the media what the lawyers had said about them.
“You have to recognize the frailty of the human condition,” the judge said.
Tom Kelley, the attorney who made the request on behalf of the Colorado Oklahoma Media Consortium, consisting of about 30 media organizations, said he wasn’t surprised by the decision.
“Let’s face it,” he said, “there is something of an hysteria right now on juror privacy.”
The questioning entered its fourth day Thursday with the usually tense mood softened by the comments from a retired Sears worker who charmed the courtroom and drew laughter from McVeigh and others - even when she spoke about execution.
The woman launched into her feelings about the death penalty before the judge could begin his long introductory remarks about the penalty process in federal trials.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.