Attorneys for former Reserve Deputy Robert Bates are developing a questionnaire to find out the impact of publicity on prospective jurors for his upcoming trial.
Corbin Brewster, an attorney representing Bates, was in court Monday for a pre-trial hearing in Bates’ manslaughter case. In answer to a question from District Judge William Musseman about jury selection, Brewster said defense attorneys are proposing to use a jury questionnaire.
Due to the publicity over Bates’ shooting last year of Eric Harris, Musseman said many jurors will be aware of the case and have read or viewed media coverage.
“The questionnaire, at least as far as I’m concerned, would weed out the people who have made up their minds,” Musseman said.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray told Musseman that jurors would be questioned in two stages, one to deal with impact of publicity and another stage for traditional questions regarding jurors’ backgrounds.
Though such surveys are not uncommon in high-profile cases, judges rarely agree to change venue in Oklahoma. The federal trial of Timothy McVeigh was moved out of state, as the state trial for Kevin Sweat in the killings of two girls in Weleetka would have been (he pleaded guilty right before the trial began).
I can recall few others in 25 years of writing about the criminal justice system in Oklahoma.
The April 2 shooting became a national story after video of the shooting was released. It showed Harris pleading with deputies that he was losing his breath after Bates shot him. Deputy Joseph Byars’ retort — “fuck your breath”— sparked a torrent of criticism.
Though the national spotlight faded, heavy local coverage continued throughout the next 10 months as the scandal surrounding former Sheriff Stanley Glanz grew.
Even during routine hearings such as Monday’s, photographers were poised in the hallway to capture a shot of Bates coming and going from the hearing. Bates wasn’t there though, because the judge has said he’s not required to attend hearings until the trial begins April 18.
By the way, Tulsa District Court rules restrict photographers to a small area outside the elevators on each floor. Meanwhile, Oklahoma County judges allowed cameras in a courtroom recently for the sentencing of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw.
With court proceedings open to photographers in many states, isn’t it about time judges here reviewed this blanket ban on the media’s First Amendment rights?
Who does this rule actually protect?
When asked about the jury surveys after the hearing, Brewster smiled and pointed to the cameras and microphones poised to capture what he had to say as proof that protections were needed against a jury pool possibly swayed by intense media coverage.
The next hearing in Bates’ case will be March 14, when prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to have discovery issues complete.
Brewster said one remaining issue is expert testimony that the defense plans to present regarding “circumstances that can cause people to make a mistake.”
We’ll know soon if it’s William Lewinski, the controversial use of force expert Dylan Goforth wrote about in August.