Kirkland Murder Trial Opens With Jury Selection

In the opening day of the murder trial of alleged Kirkland gunman Jabrai Jordan Copney yesterday, dozens of citizens paraded through the courtroom to be evaluated for spots in the jury box.

By the end of the day, half of the panel—five women and three men—had been selected through a lengthy process which involved questioning each potential juror individually. Thirty-four citizens interviewed yesterday were excused from service based on their answers.

As soon as sixteen jurors—the requisite twelve deliberators plus four alternates—have been selected, opening statements will begin in the trial of the man who allegedly shot 21-year-old Cambridge resident Justin Cosby in the basement of Kirkland House in May 2009.

Through a written questionnaire, a group session, and individual interviews, potential jurors faced inquiries about a wide range of issues that might disqualify them.

Some were turned away for saying that a relative’s employment in the judicial system or the police force unfairly colored their view of law enforcement; others said they were biased due to their own or their family members’ brushes with the law.

One woman was excused because of health problems, and many were dismissed because their employment or their family commitments presented “insurmountable” hindrances to their attendance at the trial, which Superior Court Judge John T. Lu predicted will last up to three weeks.

Lu also asked members of the jury pool whether they would be unable to make impartial judgments in a case involving Yale or Harvard. For some, that did pose a problem.

“I live right down the street from Harvard, so it’s kind of in my neighborhood, and I was actually quite happy when I heard they had found the person that did it,” one woman said. “And I think I know one of the witnesses: I think one of the police officers, his son was on my kid’s baseball team.” Lu promptly excused her from the jury pool.

Lu dismissed some people who said they would look unfavorably upon a defendant who chooses not to testify in his own defense, even though the law permits him to do so, and others who admitted they might have trouble thinking about potentially prejudicial evidence only in certain court-approved contexts.

Noting that both the murder victim and his alleged killer are African-American, Lu asked every potential juror whether race would unfairly sway his or her thinking about the case. All said that race would not affect their judgments.

Daniel J. Bennett ’85, the senior prosecutor in the case, and John A. Amabile, a defense attorney representing Copney, each had the opportunity to ask up to three questions of each juror and to unilaterally choose to remove a limited number of interviewees from the jury pool without stating a cause.

Bennett asked few questions, but Amabile used his three questions at almost every opportunity. He repeatedly queried how, as a juror, a person might react to prosecutors’ allegation that Copney committed a different robbery several months before the crime for which he is on trial.

Lu has said that he intends to deny Amabile’s earlier motion that this evidence should be excluded from the Kirkland shooting trial altogether.

Amabile also asked many potential jurors to define “presumption of innocence” and probed them about their personal feelings toward marijuana users and accused murderers.

Bennett chose to strike two interviewees from the jury pool yesterday, and Amabile struck four.

Next on the horizon—after the jury box is filled and the prosecution and defense each deliver opening statements—is a bus trip for jurors from Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, Mass., to Cambridge. There, the jury will visit Kirkland House’s J-entryway to see the alleged scene of the crime first-hand.

—Staff writer Julie M. Zauzmer can be reached at jzauzmer@college.harvard.edu.

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