Jury selection inching along

Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Concern for the comfort of potential jurors appeared foremost in Kenai Superior Court on Tuesday as jury selection began in the David Forster murder trial.

Striving to seat 12 impartial jurors and four alternates, Judge Donald Hopwood and attorneys in the case questioned candidates from a list of 100, splitting the group into panels and instructing individual panels to report only as the court would be able to call on them.

In most trials, the entire body of potential jurors is asked to report on the first day of jury selection and sit in a jury assembly room until called, sometimes waiting four or five days before being questioned.

Forster is charged with fatally shooting Kenai Police Officer John Watson on Christmas 2003.

Shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday, Hopwood called for about 45 potential jurors, telling them of the importance of finding jurors who are impartial, can view evidence in the case objectively and have open minds.

He had the courtroom full of candidates sworn in as potential jurors and collectively asked them if they were U.S. citizens, were residents of Alaska and were at least 18 years old.

Hopwood explained the charges in the case and told the jury candidates what they might expect in terms of the length of the trial and the daily schedule.

Then the judge sent about half the group home, saying they would not be questioned at least until today.

The other group was again split in two with one being sent home until 1 p.m. Tuesday, and the other half questioned during the morning session.

Based on statements made on juror questionnaires, Kenai District Attorney June Stein and Anchorage defense attorney John Murtagh had specific questions for the candidates, with hopes of establishing a group of 50 from which to select the final jury.

The first couple of candidates were dismissed for cause.

One said she lived across the street from the Watergate Way location of the crime scene. That night, she said, her street was lined with police cars as law enforcement officers began to investigate the slaying of their comrade.

Another was excused be-cause she said a potential witness in the case was a coworker, and she would believe anything that person said as being the truth.

A couple of people were selected to the jury pool and then another was excused from the case because she told of having issues with males in her family controlling females by abusing them.

Two of the counts against Forster, third-degree assault charges, involve alleged abuse of his girlfriend.

Although attorneys in the case anticipated spending 15 to 20 minutes questioning each candidate, they actually moved through the list at a rate of five or six per hour.

Forster is accused of killing Watson late Christmas night after Watson went to Forster's residence in the Kenai VIP Subdivision in response to an Alaska State Trooper request for help in conducting a welfare check.

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.

Jury selection is expected to continue this week, with opening statements coming as early as Monday.

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