Jury selection in LaRosa aggravated murder case complicated by news coverage
Jacob LaRosa is charged with killing Marie Belcastro, 94, in her Niles home
By Ed Runyan
Jury selection in the Jacob LaRosa aggravated murder trial got surprisingly complicated Monday as the first five potential jurors questioned were dismissed, primarily because news media coverage had convinced them of LaRosa’s guilt, they said.
The potential jurors who said they were exposed to news coverage of the case were questioned first. About two-thirds of the roughly 40 people called for the case said they knew something about the case with about 13 saying they didn’t know about it.
Jury selection took longer than expected, and it was not completed by the end of business Monday. It resumes at 9 a.m. today.
Potential jurors in murder cases frequently say they have read or watched news accounts about a case. Many eventually conclude, however, that they could still be fair and impartial.
But many of the potential jurors early-on Monday said LaRosa’s fast arrest in the 2015 case caused them to believe he is guilty.
Some said they also were angry about the case because LaRosa, then 15, now 18, was accused of killing, robbing and attempting to rape an elderly neighbor who he knew. LaRosa is charged with killing Marie Belcastro, 94, of Cherry Street in Niles.
“I remember a child trying to rob an old lady and rape her,” one female potential juror said. Hearing about the woman’s death was “hurtful,” she added.
After Judge W. Wyatt McKay told the woman defendants in criminal cases are innocent until and unless proven guilty in court, she said she “could listen to the facts.”
A short time later, however, she mentioned she had spent three years in prison on a cocaine-possession conviction, which eliminated her from serving on the jury.
A jury-commission official later said felons are not allowed to serve on a jury, and they are usually weeded out before they get to that stage of jury selection.
When another woman was asked if she could set aside her opinions about whether LaRosa is guilty or not, she said, “I don’t know if I could, honestly.” One reason, she acknowledged, was because she was a victim of a sex crime years ago.
A man who said his barber is close to the victim’s family likewise said he wasn’t sure he could be impartial and was dismissed from the case.
But a high percentage of potential jurors questioned later Monday either said they knew little about the case or didn’t hold strong opinions about it.
Once seated, jurors are expected to be taken to the scene of the crime, then return to the courthouse for opening statements from prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Testimony is scheduled to begin after that. The case might not wrap up until early next week, said Chris Becker, assistant county prosecutor.
If convicted, LaRosa could get life in prison without the possibility of parole.