Prosecutor: Death penalty and economy make jury selection difficult

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by KYLE MOORE / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on November 13, 2009 at 6:51 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 14 at 1:48 PM

SEATTLE - Jury selection began in the case of a man accused of stabbing to death a Kirkland family. Conner Schierman is charged with four counts of aggravated murder in the first degree and arson in the first degree.

Prosecutors accuse Schierman with the July 2006 stabbing deaths of Olga Milkin her sister Lyubov Botvina and Olga's children – 5-year-old son Justin and 3-year-old son Andrew.

Authorities say Schierman set fire to the house to cover up the crime.

Prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty in the case. Schierman pleaded not guilty to the crime. He told investigators he blacked out from alcohol and woke up covered in blood.

Three thousand jurors were summoned for this high profile case. About 600 showed up to fill out juror questionnaires. Attorneys say every single potential juror has to believe in the death penalty. It's called a death-qualified jury.

Current economic conditions are another factor in having such a large jury pool. Sr. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott O'Toole says it's not easy to find a total of 17 jurors (12 and 5 alternates) who can be available for a long, complex trial that this will most likely be. "The death penalty is always a controversial issue," said O'Toole. "But there is also the impact of the economy. Many people can't take that kind of time off from work, they may be afraid they'll lose their jobs, or they are out of work and need to spend the time looking for employment."

We spoke to defense attorney John Henry Browne. He is not involved in the Schierman case but he has picked more than 150 and also has handled death penalty cases. Browne says if Schierman's attorney argues that alcohol was a factor he would suggest picking intelligent jurors.

"That is what we call a diminished capacity defense. So you would be looking for jurors who are smart and would accept the word of an expert," he said.

O'Toole estimates it will take two months to seat a jury. The trial is expected to begin the first week in January and finish around March.

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