Thursday, January 20, 2011

More confusion about death penalty procedures dominates day two of jury selection

  Day two of jury selection in the death penalty trial for Shawna Forde at Pima County Superior Court saw 50 more prospective jurors educated about the three phases that may be involved in this prosecution.

Forde is charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder in the deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, 9, as well as charges of one count of attempted first-degree murder; one count of burglary in the first-degree; one count of aggravated assault, serious physical injury; one count of aggravated assault, deadly weapon/dangerous instrument; one count of armed robbery; and one count of aggravated armed robbery.


   On the first day of voir dire it became apparent that many of the prospective jurors did not understand that besides the phase that determines the guilt or innocence that there may be two additional phases—aggravation and penalty—before the jury determines if the defendant is sentenced to life in prison or death by lethal injection.

   Several of the jurors interviewed on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20 had indicated on questionnaires filled out on Jan. 5 that they felt the death penalty was an appropriate penalty for any crime. “We’ve all come to realize that the questionnaire wasn’t worded the way that we intended it,” said Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay.

    Several jurors, during the morning session, expressed concerns about participating in a trial that could decide if Forde is sentenced to life in prison or death. “That’s not a decision that I want to make,” one juror said.

   Another juror indicated that “it’s someone’s life and it really has to be taken seriously.”

    A third juror told the court that “I truly believe in the death penalty. I will make my decision on what I learn in this courtroom.”

  A fourth juror admitted that she was prone to be very emotional and was concerned about looking at photos of the victims after they are admitted into evidence. “I don’t know how I’m going to handle that. I’m going to have to step up and do my duty. I’ll have to deal with the emotions and get on with the business.”

   That juror was eventually excused. “It’s okay to be emotional,” said Judge John S. Leonardo. “Everybody is going to be emotional.”

More questions

   The afternoon session was more of the same. “I don’t believe in the death penalty,” one juror said.

   “I don’t think my emotions would let me decide,” another juror said.

   “Sometimes we get stuck in our thought processes and don’t listen to all the facts,” a juror offered.

   During questioning by defense attorney Eric Larsen a juror talked about reaching a comfort level. “Anybody who wants to be here should raise their hands now because we don’t want you because it’s not healthy,” he said.

   Both the prosecution and defense had questions for a juror who is legal counsel for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The concern involved the fact that a Border Patrol agent is scheduled to testify because he was one of the first responders at the scene of the home invasion. “I have no idea what the testimony would be about,” the juror told the court.

   At the end of the day, 18 of the 50 jurors summoned for voir dire were excused. On Friday, Jan. 21, 63 jurors are expected to return to court to finish the jury selection process. It is anticipated that jury selection will be completed by noon with opening statements in early afternoon.

Check the Green Valley News and Sun for coverage of the trial.

© David S. Ricker, all rights reserved.