Al-Arian jury pool slowly pared (5/17)May 17, 2005
St. Petersburg Times
By Bill Varian
Link: Click hereTAMPA - Prospective juror No. 66 said he thinks the government wouldn't have spent so much time investigating Sami Al-Arian if he hadn't done something wrong.
And prospective juror No. 84 thought Betty Castor had her head in the sand about Al-Arian when she was president of the University of South Florida.
Still, both said their opinions wouldn't sway them, so they made the first cut Monday in the opening day of jury selection in the long- anticipated trial of Al-Arian and three co-defendants who are accused of aiding a Palestinian terrorist group.
The jury questioning came as a defense attorney for Al-Arian restated his call to move the trial because of a bias against his client. Attorneys for news organizations urged the judge to lift his ban on describing jurors.
U.S. District Judge James Moody will wait until after prospective jurors are questioned before deciding whether to move the trial. He also delayed ruling on the news media request, while saying his initial order was mainly aimed at keeping the name, address and employer of potential jurors from the public so they don't face outside pressure.
William Moffitt, Al-Arian's normally chatty co-counsel, made few remarks after nearly eight hours of courtroom jockeying.
"We can't afford to be accused of screaming outside the courthouse and contributing to the pretrial publicity," Moffitt said
...The case has generated national attention and is expected to draw a throng of reporters for opening statements June 6.
The trial is expected to last six months.
The atmosphere around the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa was subdued Monday, despite barricades erected in case of trouble.
About 30 reporters and other onlookers filed into a fifth-floor room of the courthouse to watch jury questioning on closed-circuit television. Moody's 13th-floor courtroom can hold only about 35 spectators, so it was closed to make room for jurors, attorneys and courtroom workers.
About 500 questionnaires were sent to prospective jurors. After getting answers from 322, the pool was pared by more than 150 whose answers suggested they couldn't be impartial because of feelings about the case or because of extreme work conflicts.
Judge Moody is attempting to question 50 a day of the nearly 160 who remain. The candidates are being interviewed in groups of five so that one person doesn't say something that taints a large group.
Defense attorneys argued that many still showed bias against their clients because of news coverage, the bruising fall Senate campaign in which Al-Arian was an issue or because of distractions from illness or work. The judge fell one shy of his 50-person goal Monday and weeded 14 people from the pool.
Moody denied all but four of a dozen requests by defense attorneys to remove prospective jurors because of perceived prejudice. Prosecutors made no effort to have any panelist removed, telling prospective jurors that it was all right to have opinions about the case as long as they set them aside and consider only evidence presented at the trial.
Several did voice a bias, but, like Nos. 66 and 84, said they could be impartial.
Moody is seeking to seat a jury of 12, with several alternates. Defense attorneys will be allowed to have a combined 20 jury prospects removed. Prosecutors get 10 strikes.
In his own remarks to jurors, Moody urged them not to talk about the trial to family, friends and co-workers, and to avoid all media accounts.
"I'm telling you right now it will be difficult," he said.
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