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Jury Selected To Hear Loukaitis Murder Case Opening Arguments Scheduled To Begin Monday In Seattle

Peggy Andersen Associated Press

Sixteen jurors - a panel of 12 and four alternates - were chosen in the fifth day of jury selection Friday to hear the trial of a 16-year-old pleading insanity in the classroom shooting deaths of two students and a teacher.

The jurors were chosen from an original pool of 108 people.

The panel of 12 comprises six men and six women.

On Monday, they will hear opening statements in the trial of Barry Loukaitis from Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell and defense lawyer Michelle Shaw.

Loukaitis was 14 when he killed three people and wounded one on Feb. 2, 1996, at Frontier Junior High in Moses Lake. He is being tried as an adult on three counts of aggravated first-degree murder. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison for killing classmates Arnold Fritz and Manuel Vela, both 14, and algebra teacher Leona Caires.

Loukaitis also is charged with attempted first-degree murder for shooting Natalie Hintz, who survived, and with second-degree assault and 16 counts of kidnapping.

The slender, dark-haired, former straight-A student was in court with his lawyers throughout jury selection. He sat silently, eyes downcast.

His father, Terry Loukaitis, was in court daily as well, taking extensive notes. As a witness in the case, he will be barred from the courtroom during the actual trial, until he has completed his testimony.

About 50 prospective jurors were questioned extensively Friday morning about their views on the insanity defense, psychiatrists and the mentally ill.

Knodell asked jurors about the difference between anger and mental illness, noting the term “mad” covered both.

Juror No. 95 suggested the term “probably goes way back,” and was related to the sometimes violent behavior of angry people and the mentally ill.

“Have you ever done something in anger that you later regretted?” Knodell asked the jurors.

Most nodded.

“Is it fair to be held responsible?” Knodell asked.

Virtually all the jurors in the courtroom agreed that it was.

Knodell contends Loukaitis planned the classroom attack, modeling it on a similar event in the Stephen King novella “Rage,” published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.

“Barry Loukaitis did commit these senseless, bizarre acts,” Shaw told the prospective jurors. “The issue for you is Barry’s state of mind” and the legal definition of insanity.

She asked the prospective jurors how they responded when they encountered a person with mental problems. Most said they tried to be compassionate.

“I feel like all of us, including me, are one accident away from being mentally ill,” said Juror No. 100. A car accident or extreme stress could cause a person to lose their mind, he said - “it depends how strong you are.”

After 4-1/2 days of questioning and discussion, nearly half the original jury pool had been excused “for cause” - for beliefs or relationships that could threaten impartiality, or due to hardship that would result from hearing the trial, expected to last at least four weeks.

On Friday afternoon, 48 jurors sat in the courtroom for about an hour as lawyers exercised the 16 peremptory challenges - those without legal basis - allotted each side.

Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Michael Cooper then called out the names and numbers of the jurors and alternates.

The trial was moved here due to extensive news coverage about the case in rural Grant County, about 130 miles east. Cooper was assigned the case after a Grant County judge disqualified himself.

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