Jury is seated in synagogue shooting trial without any Black, Hispanic or Jewish jurors
The jury for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial has been selected and been instructed to appear in court on Tuesday for the start of the trial.
Defense and prosecution attorneys whittled the pool of potential jurors down to 12 jurors and six alternates by eliminating prospective jurors one-by-one until none was left.
While the selection process finished before noon, the actual jury members weren't given instruction until the end of the day because the defense challenged six of the prosecution's jury strikes. The defense argued that it was discriminatory for the prosecution to strike all four Black jurors, the only Hispanic juror and the only Jewish juror.
The prosecution countered however, that each of those six jurors was eliminated for reasons other than their race, ethnicity and religion, including their lenient views of the death penalty, their emotional state when they were being interviewed and, in one case, a juror's ability to show up.
The only person out of 68 potential jurors who didn't show up for court today was a Black male, and the prosecution argued that this made him a bad fit for a trial that would last for two months. They argued that another man whose pregnant wife was being induced into labor still came to court, as did another juror whose close family member had just died. The defense argued that the judge should send federal marshals to bring him in because he wasn't responding to calls.
One of the key questions prospective jurors were asked was to rate their view of the death penalty on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being totally against it and 10 being totally in favor of it. The prosecution argued that it moved to strike every single juror who rated themselves at 3 or 4 (or below), with only two exceptions. Those two exceptions, they said, were due to those juror's responses during interviews and to other questions on the questionnaire, which made prosecutors believe that they would potentially vote to give Robert Bowers the death penalty.
In addition to identifying as a 4, one elderly black woman, who once served as a city councilor, acted regal and behaved in a way that would give her great authority in the jury, prosecutors argued.
"She is the kind of person who we think would be a leader in the jury room, and given her responses and hesitation about the death penalty, we think that is a legitimate, nonracial use of the strike," said Mary Hahn, arguing for the prosecution.
The prosecution argued that the lone Hispanic potential juror wasn't likely to vote for the death penalty because she said she’s a doctor and added, "I believe it is not my place to decide whether another person lives or dies." She said she works in a research laboratory studying neurobiology, and the prosecution argued that her scientific knowledge could make her too persuasive in the jury room when discussions of the biology of Bowers' mental health comes up during the trial.
The lone Jewish juror isn’t active in religious practice, according to the prosecution, but her views of the death penalty made it seem unlikely that she would be able to impose the death penalty. That potential juror became emotional during her questioning, used tissue to wipe her tears, and then separately emailed the court on May 18 on her own to say the possibility of serving on the trial was causing her distress. According to prosecutors, she said in her email that she was not confident that she can manage sitting on the jury and questioned whether she would be impartial, "which is not fair to either side."
The defense continued to ask for more time to make its case, despite several motions during the past several days that were denied by U.S. District Judge Robert Colville. Again, Colville overruled the defense attempt to delay seating the jury until Tuesday and the defense was forced to make its arguments in court after only a 90-minute delay.
The defense argued that the fact that the prosecution was able to come up with race-neutral reasons for striking all Black, Hispanic and Jewish jurors was further proof that the method of choosing jurors in the case was discriminatory against Black and Hispanic jurors and is unconstitutional.
Colville ruled against that argument late in the afternoon and seated the jury without any Black, Hispanic or Jewish jurors.
“I am personally disappointed ...that the jury does not reflect the full diversity of the citizenry of Western Pennsylvania,” he said. “But that is not the question before the court, however. The question is whether there has been purposeful discrimination.”
The prosecution noted that one Asian member is seated on the jury. (The woman, a paralegal from China, said during questioning that she had witnessed an execution.)
The judge then called all of the potential jurors back into the courtroom. The 18 jurors were seated but not sworn in. The jury includes 11 women and 7 men, including the very first juror interviewed — an administrator at UPMC.
One of the 18 jurors was not present at the end of the day —the man whose wife had been induced into labor. He was excused early for the day. Colville said he expected the man would return to court on Tuesday.