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High-Profile Cases Make It Difficult To Find Impartial Juries

This article is more than 8 years old.

There are three major trials currently in the beginning phases across the country.

As James Holmes, the accused shooter in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, movie theater mass shooting goes to trial, so does the alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and former Marine Eddie Ray Routh, who prosecutors say shot and killed former Navy Seal Chris Kyle, on whom the movie "American Sniper" was based, and his friend Chad Littlefield.

In each of the cases, the defense has asked that the trial's location be moved as a way to select an impartial jury, but each of these requests have been denied.

So is there a chance that these men can get a fair trial?

Here & Now's Robin Young discusses jury selection with Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, a jury consultant who worked on the high-profile murder trials of O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson.

Interview Highlights

On how judges deal with high profile cases in close-knit communities

"What I have seen is a judge say, well there’s so much bias and prejudice in a community that we’ll move it to a new venue. Usually Robin, what happens is during the jury selection process the number of people that fall out, the defense lawyers are keeping track of that, so that potentially they can renew that issue about moving a trial before that jury is actually seated."

On the selection process for jurors in a high profile case

"The Boston bombing case is really unique."

"In any high profile case you’re looking for those people who, despite whatever they’ve heard, read or seen, they can still keep an open mind. As a jury consultant, you always wonder and worry a bit about the person who says, ‘yeah, I heard about it, but I didn’t really follow it.’ Or more likely, you have the person who says, ‘you know, I just moved to Boston. I didn’t live here during the time of the bombing and so I’m not as intricately involved in it.’ And then you contrast that to other jurors who may say that they were paralyzed by fear during the time that they were out hunting for the two brothers. As the legal team on either side you’re looking to the honesty, the truthfulness, the genuineness with which a juror responds to your questions."

On how you can tell if potential jurors are lying

"What’s most frightening now is that there are actually websites out there that show people how to get on to a jury, that tell people how to get out of jury duty. And, the bottom line is a lot of people want their 15 minutes of fame. And what’s the more important story, let’s say for the Boston bombing defendant, is it that ‘I convicted him’ or ‘I was the one person who held out for him.’"

On the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial

"The Boston bombing case is really unique. From what I understand, there are many, many people who have already made up their minds about this case. As a matter of fact, the trial has already seen 140 prospective jurors and we don’t know how many of those are being excused. I suspect what I referred to earlier with the defense perhaps wanting to bring a motion in the near future that they really can’t get fair and partial jurors."

"What’s most frightening now is that there are actually websites out there that show people how to get on to a jury, that tell people how to get out of jury duty."

On the James Holmes trial

"That judge has actually summoned over 9,000 jurors. He’s bringing groups of 250 people who then fill out a 75 question survey. One juror apparently broke down in the courtroom and began to pull chunks of her hair out because she did not have child care for her young child, but the judge asked her to continue on, so at that point she began ripping her hair out. We had two other jurors who showed up intoxicated and one juror who was taken away by ambulance because they were violently ill. So you’ve got all sorts of issues."

On the Eddie Ray Routh trial

"They are looking for military veterans themselves, certainly on the defense side, because generally these people, even if not they themselves, but someone close to them has been exposed to PTSD, and while there are different degrees of PTSD, certainly they would be more susceptible to perhaps a not guilty by reason of insanity defense."

On advising the defense in the O.J. Simpson Trial

"In that case, as in many other cases that we work on, we actually do a variety of social science research. We actually did telephonic surveys, we did a focus group, and because of those we learned about the people that we wanted to avoid because of their understanding of DNA. At the time — and obviously we’re going back 20 years — DNA was not the understood phenomena that it is right now. And we found that those people who were less likely to believe it, happened to be African American females with a high school or less education. More likely, it is the person’s attitude and life experiences that impact how they may perceive a case."


This segment aired on February 9, 2015.


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