Hundreds called as prospective jurors for murder trial in Eagle
December 3, 2011
EAGLE, Colo. – A little nervous laughter floated over Courtroom Three as potential jurors filtered in to face the first round of questioning in Rossi Moreau’s murder trial.
From the 450 Eagle County residents who received a jury summons, 12 jurors will be selected to decide whether Richard Allen “Rossi” Moreau is guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Dr. Gary Kitching of Carbondale, as well as seven other felonies.
Potential jurors were asked to report at 8:45 a.m. By 8:30 a.m. the courtroom was packed.
Prospective jurors filled the room to the very front, usually reserved for the judge, attorneys and the court staff.
“But I don’t want to go the front of the room,” said one prospective juror, adding that she’s “short” and if she’s in the front of the room, she might be more easily noticed.
Many brought in coffee mugs, newspapers and books. One man, there for his third time as part of a large jury pool, was experienced enough to bring a “survival kit”: A reusable shopping bag containing a hardback novel, a coffee urn, candy, gum and other things necessary for someone who might be sitting in a courtroom through at least two days of jury selection – the estimated time it will take to whittle 450 people down to a 12-member panel.
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Moreau, 63, was not in court Friday. Neither were his attorneys.
The courtroom buzzed with people greeting old friends and making new ones.
Jurors who make the first-round cut will be questioned by attorneys beginning Monday. They’ll learn of their fate by Friday night through a recorded message. If their name is on the recording, they’re excused.
Each side gets 10 automatic challenges to prospective jurors.
Attorneys optimistically say they expect to start presenting evidence Tuesday.
District Court Judge Tom Moorhead warmly greeted the overflow crowd, and explained what they’d be doing.
The jury will not determine sentencing, only guilt or innocence, Moorhead said. The district attorney will not seek the death penalty, Moorhead said.
Moorhead cautioned them not to read newspapers about the case, or seek out any online information about the case.
The room went silent as a tomb when Moorhead read the eight-count indictment.
Then Moorhead set the potential jurors to work filling out their questionnaires, answering standard questions such as name and address, and other questions that might get you out of serving on a jury for the two-week trial: Are you a primary caregiver? What do you do for a living? What do you know about the case and how did you learn it? Who do you know among those associated with the case?
About those questions – usually prospective jurors tell the truth. Sometimes they don’t, says local defense attorney Jim Fahrenholtz.
“People are either doing everything they can to get on the jury, or everything to get off it,” said Fahrenholtz, who has some experience in murder trials.
Fahrenholtz and his then-partner Grant Riva defended Robert Mach, who was convicted in 1995 of murdering his wife.
Jury selection for the Mach trial took five days, and on Friday afternoon they finally seated the 12-member jury.
Fahrenholtz asked for criminal background checks on all 12 jury members. Two days later, Sunday night, a sheriff’s deputy knocked on Fahrenholtz’s door while he and Riva were putting the finishing touches on the opening statement they were to deliver the next morning. The deputy handed them an envelope, turned and left.
About an hour and a half later, as he and Riva were finishing, Fahrenholtz opened the envelope.
It contained those criminal background checks Fahrenholtz had requested.
Three jury members had felony convictions and had lied about it when they were questioned in court.
Judge Terry Ruckriegle moved the trial to Georgetown, where a jury convicted Mach.
For the Moreau trial, all prospective jurors are being run through criminal background checks, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said.
Moreau is charged in connection with a Nov. 9, 2009, shooting at the Sandbar in West Vail, where he allegedly shot Kitching to death and wounded three others.
Moreau was filmed on the Sandbar’s security video system stalking through the bar brandishing a handgun, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors screened that video in court at least twice during earlier hearings. It shows Moreau shooting Kitching and wounding the others, prosecutors say.