Jury seated in arson trial for Carbondale-area landowner
August 11, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – After two full days of poking and probing by attorneys, a jury was seated at 6 p.m. Monday in the Larry Gerbaz arson trial.
The jury Tuesday will hear opening statements from the attorneys and testimony from the first of a stream of witnesses. The trial is scheduled to last eight more days.
Judge Daniel Petre of Garfield County District Court said it was the longest jury selection process he had ever presided over. He thanked the seven men and seven women who were selected as jurors and alternates, as well as scores of others in the prospective juror pool for their patience.
The 123 Garfield County residents called for jury duty were required Friday to complete a questionnaire that focused on what information they learned in the media about the high-profile case and whether that led them to form an opinion about Gerbaz’s guilt or innocence.
After that process weeded out 31 people from the pool, defense attorney Tom Silverman and Deputy District Attorney Ed Veronda started the laborious process of questioning prospective jurors on Monday. Each attorney exercised his right to strike seven prospective jurors from the possibility of duty. Petre also removed about eight people for specific reasons, ranging from a mother who is breast-feeding her baby to a restaurant owner who said he would face extraordinary financial hardship from serving 10 days on a jury. Another man said he would be forced to follow the law of the Bible rather than the law of man if they were in conflict during the trial.
Gerbaz is facing one charge of felony arson and one charge of misdemeanor arson for the County Road 100 fire on April 15, 2008. The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office claimed a wood pile that Gerbaz ignited in a controlled burn was the source of a fire that burned a fisherman, damaged three houses and forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.
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Gerbaz pleaded not guilty. Court documents indicate his defense will be that the fire originated elsewhere.