No jury yet in Carbondale rancher arson trial
August 8, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A rather unusual screening procedure slowed jury selection down on Friday to the point that a jury was not seated in the arson trial of Carbondale area rancher Larry Gerbaz, who stands accused of letting a controlled burn get loose to threaten local homes, and badly in injure a fisherman.
Concerns about pre-trial publicity about the fire, which started on April 15, 2008 in the area of County Road 100 east of Carbondale, led the judge and the two attorneys in the case to use the rather unusual tactic of requiring jurors to fill out written questionnaires.
Then Judge Dan Petrie, prosecutor Ed Veronda and defense attorney Tom Silverman went over the questionnaires in the judge’s chambers, eliminating some of those called for jury service as being unsuitable to hear the case in an unbiased way.
According to Court Clerk James Bradford, of the 123 potential jurors who showed up at 8:30 a.m. in the courtroom, there were 92 left by about 4 p.m.
At about 4:30, the remaining potential jurors were called into the courtroom and dismissed until 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 10, when the more traditional part of the jury selection process will begin. At that point, the attorneys on either side of the case will try to pick a jury that seems best suited to decide the case. As the judge announced the news, there was some muttering and groaning among those in the room.
“I hope we can get through it fairly quickly,” the judge said, just before admonishing those assembled to refrain from talking about, reading about or in any way receiving information about the case over the intervening weekend.
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Silverman, after the jurors had left the room, said that the use of questionnaires does not happen often, and that it was the defense that suggested it as a way to “make sure that we have a fair jury … the issues we’re really dealing with are what people believe they know about the case before the trial even starts.”
Veronda said that, for his case, he does not consider it a problem for the case to have the jurors go home over the weekend. When asked the same question, Silverman smiled ruefully and said, “I don’t know.”