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Court Discusses Jury Selection in Possible Death Penalty Case


Crime occurs in every type of neighborhood. Domestic violence is not located in some other neighborhood, it is located in every neighborhood in the United States. When domestic violence advances to homicidal violence, it is especially tragic. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said that family violence effects more than the two adults who participate in the fighting, it also affects the children of the adults. In some cases, the primary aggressor will batter the victim in front of the children. The effect on the mental stability of children of this type of violence is obvious. No child should have to see one of their parents murdered by the other parent, but it happens.

In a nice middle class home in Spafford, Onondage County, New York on a spring day in April of 1998 a couple determined that they could no longer remain married. Pursuant to New York divorce law, they filed a separation agreement and proceeded to wait the allotted time before they could file for the divorce. They decided that the divorce would be amicable and that they would continue to live in their home together but separately until they could file for the divorce. However, on April 21st, the couple engaged in a violent argument with their young children at home. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said the husband and father grabbed a baseball bat and bludgeoned his wife about the head with it. During the assault, the woman cried out for her children to call the police before he killed her. The children were frozen in fear.

Following the assault, the husband realized what he had done. The wife was not dead and was moaning incoherently and bleeding profusely on the floor of the kitchen. The husband contacted his parents and they came over to help him. After his parents arrived, they summoned his brother who called a family friend who was a doctor to come with him to the house. When they arrived, they contacted the police. Upon arriving on the scene, the police found the wife still on the kitchen floor, barely alive. She had the imprint of the baseball bat in her left temple area. The husband had superficial cuts on his person that he claimed were the result of the wife attacking him with a knife from the kitchen. He stated that he had struck her in the head with the bat in self -defense.

A Nassau Sex Crimes Lawyer said that during questioning, the husband admitted that he had cut himself with the knife in an attempt to provide himself with a defense. He admitted that the couple had been arguing and that he had gone crazy with anger and begun to beat her with the bat. He stated that when he realized what he was doing, he was overcome with grief and had determined to commit suicide. He stated that he had gone into the garage with the intent to put a hose in the tailpipe and poison himself, however, he changed his mind when he saw the rosary in the car. He was indicted by a Grand Jury in June of 1998. He was allowed to remain at liberty while awaiting trial. His wife was comatose for a while in the hospital, but soon began to recover.

As she recovered, her mental acuity improved. She began to speak again. She could remember her children and their names. As her health improved, so did the threat that she would be able to testify against her husband when the attempted murder case came to trial. Her husband could not allow that.

On October 27, 1998, late in the evening, the husband entered the hospital wearing a wig and glasses. He was dressed as a maintenance worker and was wearing a counterfeit name tag and carrying a mop. He was seen by employees going into the wife’s room. Shortly after he left, a nurse doing her rounds at 10:00 PM entered the room. She smelled a strong acidic scent and observed the wife in respiratory distress. A Queens Sex Crimes Lawyer said there was a thick substance on her chest that burned the nurse’s hands when she tried to administer aid. The wife died before she could be revived. The cause of death was potassium cyanide poisoning.

The police investigators obtained a warrant to search the husband’s residence. They reviewed the hospital tapes and recognized him through his disguise as the person who had entered the wife’s room. During the search of the husband’s home, several items of evidence were found. They discovered the wig that he wore in the hospital in a half-burned state in a shed at the back of the property. They also discovered a bottle of potassium cyanide hidden inside a cinder block in the same shed. A search of his computer hard drive revealed that he had done several searches on poisoning and in specific poisoning using potassium cyanide. He had written several letters on that computer as well. The letters were to a company that carried potassium cyanide in order to purchase the item. He purported to be from another company in East Syracuse. Witnesses testified in court that they had observed him as he collected a package from the postal carrier outside of the business pretending to be an employee of the company.

The husband was indicted for the murder of his wife and was sent to trial. The case was well known in the area and was a lead story in the news and papers from the area. The husband made a motion to the court for a change of venue based on the publicity that the trial was receiving in the press. The court denied his motion as premature. They stated that if he wished to file the motion following jury voir dire, then he could do so at that time, but that it was not appropriate until they had determined that an impartial jury could not be obtained.

Jury voir dire is the time where a jury is chosen to try a case. The potential jurors need not be totally ignorant of the case. In fact, in cases where the circumstances surrounding the case have been in the news, it is almost impossible to locate persons who have not heard about the case. What the court is looking for is not a person who has not heard about the case, but rather someone who has an open mind about the outcome of the case. Each juror is asked questions to determine if they are able to make a decision about guilt based solely on the information that they hear during the trial and not based on anything that they may have heard about the case elsewhere. An additional issue in this case was the fact that the prosecutor was seeking the death penalty.

In order for a prospective juror to be eligible to sit on a death penalty case, they must meet certain criteria. They must be willing to find a person guilty and sentence them to death. However, they must not be too anxious to participate in sentencing a person to death. There are two categories of people who are qualified. Those who are death qualified and those who are life qualified. Basically, a person is considered death qualified if they are in not sure of the death penalty, but are not opposed to it. A person is life qualified if they favor the death penalty but do not rule out voting against it if the circumstances require that action.

In this case, the husband filed a motion that prospective juror No. 23 needed to be removed. He requested that the trial court remove the juror for cause. The trial court refused and the defense needed to use a peremptory challenge to remove him. Since the defense used all of their peremptory challenges before all of the jurors were chosen, the defense asks that the court review the trial courts decision to not remove Juror 23 for cause.

Juror 23 had repeatedly stated that he was not a supporter of the death penalty, however, under questioning the juror had stated that he thought that some defendants got off easy and did not receive the punishment that they deserved. He also recited a story about a time when he had gotten angry at his wife and had thought about hitting her. He stated that he did not hit her, but that the incident bothered him. He thought that a case involving a man who battered his wife in an argument might be too close to home for him to view it objectively. The court agreed that this juror should have been removed for cause.

The defense further pointed out that another juror, 855, had been removed for cause by the court and the defense felt that she had been removed in error. They stated that juror 855 stated that she did not believe that the death penalty was appropriate in most cases, but that in some cases, it was an appropriate recourse. The prosecutor interviewed her extensively and she repeatedly stated that she would base her decision on prayerful reflection and the facts of the case at hand. She was able to state specific times that she thought that the death penalty would be appropriate even though overall, she felt that it would have to be a brutal or outrageous crime to qualify for it. The court agreed that this juror should not have been removed for cause. The husband contends that the discrepancies with the jury selection should qualify the court to overturn the guilty verdict and reverse the death penalty phase.

The court determined that the problems with the jury selection in this case do not rise to the sufficiency that would require the verdict to be overturned or the death penalty put aside. The fact that the trial was a capital trial means that the trial was divided into two parts. There was a verdict phase and a sentencing phase. Because, the proclivity of any juror toward the sentencing phase would not have affected the guilt phase, it does not result in reversible error.

The defense also filed a motion requesting that the verdict be overturned because the evidence that was presented at the trial was the result of an illegal search. The defense contends that the evidence of the wig and the cyanide were found in an outbuilding on the property and not the house itself. The warrant was reviewed and found to apply not only to the house, but to the curtilage as well. The curtilage of a house is that property that is related to the house such as garages and out buildings that are not actually attached to the house. The warrant was determined to be valid. However, the court did determine that the death penalty phase should be reviewed based on the lack of qualifying points. The sentence was changed to life in prison without parole.

At Stephen Bilkis & Associates with its family violence lawyers there are convenient offices throughout New York State and Metropolitan area. Our homicide attorneys can provide you with advice to guide you through difficult situations. Hiring a criminal Lawyers can prevent you from losing precious time with your family.

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