Jury selection is complete for Rooney trial in Rutland

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(Host) We see the faces of TV jurors all the time as they reflect on dramatic closing arguments by persuasive trial attorneys.

In Rutland this week, the real situation is being played out with 12 people hearing the case of Brian Rooney, charged with raping and murdering UVM student Michelle Gardner-Quinn in 2006.

It will be a challenging two weeks for the jurors. The testimony may be hard to listen to. And it will be sensitive.

VPR’s Nina Keck has more.

(Keck) Lawyers for both the defense and prosecution spent nearly two full days questioning prospective jurors about everything from their views on circumstantial evidence and the burden of proof, to how often they watch TV crime shows. Deputy Chittenden County State’s Attorney Rosemary Gretkowski also wanted to know how squeamish jurors might be when faced with disturbing evidence.

(Gretkowski)"Is there anyone here who is concerned that they might not be able to focus on the photographs. . . They’ll be photographs of the scene, autoposy photographs and we’ll be asking you to look at those to show you certain pieces of evidence."

(Keck) Defense attorney David Sleigh spent most of his time Wednesday focusing on DNA and science related questions. Who on the panel had an educational or professional background in science or research he asked? How many prospective jurors have worked in a laboratory?

(Sleigh) "Has anybody here been the subject of any laboratory tests?"

(Keck) Legal experts say this sort of questioning is critical. Rutland defense attorney Mathew Harnett is not involved in the Rooney case but has worked on a number of high profile cases. He says jury selection is the most important part of a criminal trial.

(Harnett) "Because who’s making the decision and what baggage they bring into the court room with them – the baggage they tell you about and the baggage they don’t tell you about – makes all the difference in the world."

(Kennedy) I think that picking the jury is where the art of being an attorney comes into play."

(Keck) That’s Rose Kennedy. She worked as Deputy State’s Attorney in Burlington for eight years and now teaches criminal law through Champlain College. Watching jury selection in the Rooney case, she says she was struck by how little the prospective jurors said in responding to questions. Getting information in a situation like this, she says, is difficult.

(Kennedy) "Because you’re trying to get to know people very well in a very short amount of time. And they’re in a room full of strangers so it’s hard for them to talk. But ultimately your goal is to get a jury that’s fair and impartial."

(Keck) Experts say that now that the five men and seven women have been seated, the’ve shown a willingness to take on the responsibility of the trial and all it entails.

For VPR news, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

(Host): Judge Michael Kupersmith has scheduled opening arguments for Thursday morning at 9:00.

AP Photo/Vyto Starinskas, Pool: Deputy Chittenden County State’s Attorney Rosemary Gretkowski questions potential alternate jurors on Wednesday, May, 14, 2008 in Vermont District Court in Rutland, Vt., during the trial of Brian Rooney.


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