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TRAFICANT TRIAL Selection of jurors continues



Published: Fri, February 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The judge distributed the completed questionnaires to the press earlier in the week and announced in court that she would do so.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- By late morning today, 24 potential jurors in the trial of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. had been eliminated for various reasons based on responses in their questionnaires.

The government had asked that 15 be excused for such reasons as impending surgery, bias and religious beliefs, but Traficant objected to 10 of the government's requests, and U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells agreed to bring those jurors to court today for further review.

The congressman asked to have potential jurors eliminated who believed, for example, that a defendant should have to prove his innocence. Some of those jurors also were to be called to court for questioning.

The jury pool for Traficant's trial consists mostly of Democratic baby boomers who earn an average of $60,000 annually and know at least something about his racketeering case.

Aside from their political leanings, age, income and knowledge of the case, 103 prospective jurors who filled out the 42-page questionnaires listed where they live, work and how they play. Nearly every field, from engineer, cook and truck driver, to secretary, teacher and computer technician, is represented.

Suggests jury tampering: The completed questionnaires were made available to the press this week in a courthouse pressroom. Traficant said today upon entering the courthouse that he was filing a motion suggesting that there may have been jury tampering. He questioned how the press received the questionnaires.

He was especially angry that one particular juror, No. 12, was profiled in The Vindicator. Traficant seemed surprised when a reporter told him that the judge had made the questionnaires available to the press and announced that she was going to do so in court.

Interestingly enough, the government moved to strike that juror, a 20-year-old Conneaut janitor, but only because he has no transportation. His car broke down in Cleveland and is still here.

Traficant asked that juror No. 12 be brought in for further review.

The judge said that someone from the court staff was to pick up the man and bring him to court today for review.

In his questionnaire, the Conneaut juror said he didn't want to drive back and forth to U.S. District Court in Cleveland for six to eight weeks. He described himself as a middle-of-the road Republican, who would have trouble believing expert witnesses and would doubt the testimony of witnesses who plea-bargained.

He also answered "No" to the question "Can you keep an open mind?"

Pool's makeup: Two-thirds of the jury pool is over 40 with an average age of 51.

The pool consists of 43 men and 60 women. Most are married and have children.

There are 53 Democrats, 22 Republicans, and 28 who circled "none" for party affiliation.

Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, has vehemently denounced the pool, saying it's unfair that none of the potential jurors lives in Mahoning, Trumbull or Columbiana counties. Judge Wells has told him, more than once, that jurors are drawn by courthouse location and that he's no different from any other criminal defendant.

The 60-year-old congressman had half of Wednesday and all day Thursday to review the questionnaires.

Jury selection got under way again today. Judge Wells will seat 12 jurors and six alternates for the trial, which could last eight weeks.

Think he's guilty: Some potential jurors offered succinct explanations as to why they should not be picked.

"I believe he's guilty," a 53-year-old Democrat from Conneaut wrote on his questionnaire.

A 33-year-old Cleveland man took it a step further: "I believe this guy is crooked and should go straight to jail." The prospective juror is single, works in sales, earns more than $80,000 a year and describes himself as a "very liberal" Democrat.

"I don't even want anything to do with it," a retired Jefferson woman said.

A University Heights dental assistant who lived in Mahoning County in the 1980s remembers Traficant as sheriff and doesn't want to serve. The 48-year-old woman identified herself as a conservative Democrat.

A Mayfield Heights woman said she has trouble concentrating.

"Eight weeks is too long," a Grafton man said.

A Strongsville woman who has family in Mahoning County said she wouldn't be impartial.

Variety of reasons: "It is not my job to judge anyone -- that is God's job," said a 59-year-old maintenance worker from Strongsville. He added that his church doesn't want him to be a juror.

A Jefferson teacher said she just wouldn't feel comfortable "doing this."

A 54-year-old teacher of special-needs children thinks two months is too long to be gone from them. The Garfield Heights woman, a Democrat, knows very little about the case from news outlets.

An expectant father said he doesn't want to miss the birth. The 25-year-old Brook Park man, a carpenter, indicated some knowledge of Traficant, gleaned from press accounts.

For a North Ridgeville woman, the prospect of winter driving is reason enough, in her mind, to be excluded.

Looking forward to it: Others seem eager to serve.

A man who does bridge construction maintenance said "it's hard not to know something about Traficant." The 44-year-old Brunswick man wants to be a juror, believing the trial will be interesting.

"I think it will be fascinating," said a 45-year-old Mentor woman. She's a Democrat who does accounts payable work and earns more than $100,000 annually.

A 62-year-old Cleveland man, who has six grown children and works at a thrift store, said it would be a new experience. He knows virtually nothing about the case.

meade@vindy.com




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