Twenty-one potential jurors in the David Forster murder trial scheduled to start in Kenai on May 23, were excused Monday by Judge Donald Hopwood with mutual agreement of attorneys in the case, before the jurors even showed up in court.
Based on statements made on written juror questionnaires, the candidates were disqualified for a number of reasons, including knowing the accused or the victim, already believing Forster is guilty, having a relative employed in law enforcement or distrusting police.
Forster is charged with fatally shooting Kenai Police Officer John Watson on Christmas 2003.
Kenai District Attorney June Stein and Anchorage defense attorney John Murtagh will spend the remainder of this week quizzing about 100 other potential jurors, toward the goal of seating 12 impartial jurors and four alternates.
Stein told the court she has spoken with Kenai law enforcement officers asking that they not attend the proceedings dressed in uniform, unless they are on their way onto or off shift or if they're on their lunch break.
Concern was expressed over a large number of uniformed police in the courtroom possibly influencing the jurors in the trial.
Stein also asked if police, who might be called as witnesses in the case, would be allowed to sit in on the proceedings, but Hopwood said they would not.
Citing Alaska Court Rule 615, Hopwood said officers are prevented from being in court if they are going to be called to testify.
Rule 615 excludes witnesses from the courtroom as a means of discouraging and exposing fabrication, inaccuracy and collusion. The rule also states the court should instruct the witnesses to refrain from discussing their testimony with other witnesses outside the courtroom.
Forster is accused of killing Watson late Christmas night after Watson went to Forster's residence on Watergate Way in the Kenai VIP Subdivision in response to a trooper request for help in conducting a welfare check.
At first, Watson reported that Forster's vehicle was not at the residence, but as Watson was leaving, he saw the suspect vehicle drive past him.
He turned around and stopped the vehicle in Forster's driveway, and a female companion of Forster's asked if she could take two dogs from the vehicle into the residence. Watson allowed her to do so.
A few minutes later, he radioed to police dispatch that he needed assistance.
According to troopers, it is believed Forster acted aggressively toward Watson, a struggle broke out, and Forster managed to obtain Watson's service weapon, a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun.
It is believed two shots were fired, one of which struck Watson in the head, killing him.
Forster then allegedly walked into the residence, where the female took the gun from him.
Backup Kenai police and troopers responded to the residence and remained in a standoff with what was believed to be an armed subject inside the residence until 1:07 a.m., when Forster surrendered without incident.
Shortly after the standoff began, the female ran from the residence unharmed.
During the 1 1/2-hour pretrial conference Monday, Hopwood said the prosecution and the defense would be allowed 30 minutes each for opening statements, set for this Monday, when the actual trial is scheduled to begin.
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