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Thursday, 22 March 2018 09:52

Jurors asked about views on guns

Some jurors not comfortable with foul language, racist remarks

• Leader & Times
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part two of the story recapping remarks and questions during the voir dire process that began Tuesday in the trial against Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein. Today’s part will go into more detail about questions asked during the process by both the prosecution and defense.
After Judge Eric Melgren made his remarks and asked his questions, the jury selection process continued in the case against three area men accused of plotting to bomb a Garden City housing complex/mosque home to more than 100 Somali Muslims with the prosecution and defense attorneys asking their own questions of the many people on the jury panels.
Prosecutor Anthony Mattivi began the prosecution’s questions by asking the convened jury panelists how they felt upon receiving the jury summons for the trial, which received a variety of responses during both days of jury selection, including a curiosity about the criminal justice system, excitement about potentially serving on a jury for the first time and the potential to serve the country in such a capacity.
“We do this so we can pick a jury to make sure that not only the defendants have a fair trial, but also the government and the prosecution,” Mattivi said.
Many questions were asked from the prosecution including the jury panelists’ thoughts on whether or not the case would be too complex to follow, thoughts about the rights of citizens vs. non-citizens and whether or not there should be limits on the amount of refugees who enter the U.S. Another point that was discussed was the many recordings set to be part of the trial’s evidence, which Mattivi warned will contain a lot of foul language.
“And what I mean by that is, is there anyone here who feels they would be so unnerved about what they hear in the recordings they wouldn’t be able to get past that?” Mattivi asked. “And not only will there be vulgarity and harsh cursing involved, but you’re also going to hear them refer to Somali Muslims as ‘cockroaches’ and other derogatory terms including then-President Obama as ‘that nigger in the White House.’ So I would like to know is if there’s anyone here who would be so affected by hearing that stuff that they feel they wouldn’t be able to be on the jury.”
Both days of jury selection saw a variety of answers to that question, with some saying they felt they would be unable to handle hearing such language and others saying vulgar language is so much a part of society and have heard it often enough that they would be able to listen to it. Mattivi’s questions also touched on such topics as bullying, what the panelists consider as the definition of “American Values” and their impact on the panelists’ lives, and the panelists feelings about firearms and the right to own firearms.
“There’s going to be some guns mentioned in the evidence and some that will be in the courtroom,” Mattivi said. “And I want to stress that these guns were all owned legally and there was nothing legally preventing the defendants from owning them, but they are part of the evidence here. I would like to know then if there’s anyone here who would be unnerved by the sight of them.”
This question also elicited a variety of responses during the two days of jury selection, with some saying they were concerned about the types of weapons that will potentially be shown and others saying they had grown up with guns all their lives and had a healthy respect for the laws regarding gun ownership. After a few other questions and some follow-ups with some of the panelists, the prosecution ended its part of the voir dire before the defense’s portion began.
“Everyone here is qualified to be a juror,” Curtis Allen defense attorney Melody Brannon began. “But one of the most important things, as the prosecution said earlier, is for us to make sure we have the most fair and impartial jury we can have so I want to focus more on potential implicit biases with all of you here.”
Brannon began the defense’s voir dire by also asking the panelists about their thoughts on firearms and the right to own them, their feelings about their ability to handle the length of the trial, and how they would feel about hearing the foul language in the aforementioned recordings. Similar to when the prosecution had asked those questions, Brannon’s questioning also elicited a variety of responses among the panelists. Brannon also asked the panelists about their thoughts on the media coverage of the case and also the panelists’ feelings on immigration and the United States’ immigration policy, which Brannon said had seen a wide variety of responses even in the questionnaires.
After a few follow-ups with some of the panelists, Brannon then turned over to Patrick Stein defense attorney James Pratt, who began by talking about jury selection and nerves. The attorneys spoke in this order both days of the voir dire process.
“All of you are qualified to serve on this jury, but this part always makes me somewhat nervous because not only have I not always been completely comfortable talking to people and asking personal questions, but you all are in a somewhat worse position because you’re the ones who have to answer those personal questions,” Pratt began. “There’s no wrong answer here except if you say you can be fair and impartial if you know in your heart there’s something about this trial that makes you think you can’t be, because not everyone is right for this case, not everyone is right for every case.”
Pratt’s questions revisited the coarse language expected to be heard in the recordings that will be presented at trial and then followed up with panelists with questions about the Southwest Kansas area and also asked about their understanding of the concept of a unanimous verdict. All the questions elicited very small responses (indicating the panelists had no objections to the questions) and after a handful of other questions and follow-ups with the panelists, Pratt then turned the questioning over to Gavin Wright defense attorneys Kari Schmidt and Tyler Emerson to finish the defense’s portion of the voir dire.
“You all have heard this is our only opportunity to talk to you,” Emerson said. “This is my first trial, this is my first voir dire and you all have the opportunity to be on my first jury. So because of that, I would ask all of you to, if I seem nervous, to hold my performance against me and not Mr. Wright.
Wright’s defense’s portion of the questioning focused on parts of the panelists’ TV viewing habits (mostly relating to how much news they watch and also their thoughts and habits about viewing such programs as “Law & Order,” and reality shows such as “Man vs. Wild”) as well as questions regarding whether or not they studied other languages or did crossword puzzles as well as their thoughts on the FBI and other law enforcement entities. The panelists were also asked if they had ever participated in any sort of protests, which saw several hands raised and included responses such as writing letters to their state and federal representatives and protesting to protect the rights of others. After more questions and follow-ups, including their thoughts about sitting on the jury for the next weeks, the voir dire process was completed.
Jury selection is scheduled to conclude Thursday morning with opening statements set to begin Thursday afternoon.




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