Opening statements in the double-murder trial for Washington native Jason Eugene Bush in Pima County Superior Court are set for 10:30 a.m. Friday before Judge John S. Leonardo.
Bush, 36, faces two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, 9, as well as one count of the attempted first-degree murder of Gina Marie Gonzalez; 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.
Last month, a jury sentenced co-defendant Shawna Forde to death on both murder counts. She has not been sentenced on the other charges.
The trial for Bush will be heard by a jury of five males and 11 females with four of those jurors being designated as alternates prior to deliberations.
Before the 16-person jury was selected, Thursday, defense attorney Chris Kimminau urged Leonardo to probe deeper when asking questions regarding exposure to pretrial publicity, especially news reports surrounding the Forde case. “The idea that ‘don’t tell us what you’ve heard, but can you be fair and impartial’ that’s not sufficient for me,” he said. “I’m going to have to know specifically what it is they heard.”
During the morning session with the jury, Leonardo asked about publicity, but told jurors that he did not want them to expound about what they knew. Yesterday, Kimminau was very explicit regarding the nature of the case and the evidence the jury may hear. “What I’m wondering Mr. Kimminau given your conduct of the voir dire how you would think that anything they saw or read could have tainted then beyond the point that they might have been by that?” asked Leonardo.
Kimminau said knowledge of the death penalty Forde received was a major concern. “There were people who know that Shawna Forde got the death penalty. I believe that if they know that it’s cause to strike,” he said.
Also, there reports in the Green Valley News and the Arizona Daily Star regarding a pretrial motion filed by the defense. A copy of the motion was provided by counsel to a reporter prior to the start of Tuesday’s jury selection activities. “There was an article that came out in the newspaper yesterday that had some new information in it. We don’t know if they read it or not,” Kimminau said. Leonardo did question jurors regarding their recent exposure to news reports.
Kimminau renewed his criticism of the questionnaire filled out by the jury in this case. “The questionnaire only asks if they have heard about Jason Bush. It’s very apparent to me that some answered that very literally,” he said. “They were saying they had not heard anything about Jason Bush but it doesn’t say whether or not they have heard anything about Shawna Forde.”
At 10:30 a.m., Friday, the jury will be sworn, the judge will read preliminary instructions in the case and the state will deliver its opening statement. The defense previously informed the court that they would defer their opening statement until the conclusion of the prosecution case.
Prosecution witnesses scheduled to testify starting at 1:30 p.m. Friday include a U.S. Border Patrol agent, a 9-1-1 operator and the surviving victim, Gina Gonzalez. It may be a short afternoon as defense counsel indicated they had no questions for any of those witnesses at this time. Kimminau said he may call Gonzalez as a witness during the aggravation and penalty phases if his client is found guilty during the first phase of the trial.