Attorneys neared ever closer Tuesday night to selecting the 12-member jury that will ultimately decide the fate of Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby.
After a second full day of jury selection, prosecutors and attorneys for Shelby continued to whittle away at the pool of 70 potential jurors. So far, 17 jurors have been removed for cause — indicating a statutory reason, such as personal illness, family issues, or mental health reasons — and prosecutors and defense attorneys seem to have settled on a group of about 27 people.
But that group is fluid and will eventually be pared down to 12 jurors and at least two alternates. Right now that group of 27 includes 18 women and nine men. There are five black women and one black man remaining in that pool.
Shelby’s attorney, Shannon McMurray, asked jurors on Tuesday if they believed race played a factor in the shooting. Shelby is white, and Terence Crutcher, whom she shot and killed last September, is black.
That line of questioning was perhaps the only contentious one of the day. McMurray first asked one of the six potential black jurors whether race “had any place in the courtroom,” then asked whether race “had anything to do with the shooting.”
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler objected, and District Judge Doug Drummond sustained the objection. McMurray amended her question, this time asking whether “color was the reason (Crutcher) got into the situation he was in with Officer Shelby.”
Kunzweiler again objected, and Drummond called the attorneys together for a brief conference.
McMurray then asked the same potential juror if “white police officers improperly shoot black people.”
The juror responded: “I think it depends on the circumstances.”
Will Shelby testify?
Shelby did not appear in the courtroom Monday, but was there all day Tuesday for the eight or so hours of jury selection. However, McMurray appeared to be laying the groundwork for Shelby to not testify on her own behalf in the trial.
Defendants are not required to testify on their own behalf in criminal trials, and jurors are instructed not to hold that missing testimony against the defendant.
For about 20 minutes, McMurray quizzed jurors on whether it would “make (Shelby) guilty if she didn’t testify.”
McMurray at one point drew a comparison between the shooting of Crutcher and the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. In that case the gunman, George Zimmerman, was charged with second-degree murder but was eventually acquitted.
McMurray erred and referred to Zimmerman as “Andrew Zimmerman,” but asked jurors if they had any preconceived notion about his guilt prior to the trial. The question was in keeping with the defense’s notion that the media has unfairly reported on the Shelby case.
During jury selection, Kunzweiler has seemed to want to hammer home the image of Crutcher as a victim. It’s a crucial part of the state’s case because records show that prior to the shooting Crutcher did have a number of encounters with police, and an autopsy report showed PCP, a powerful hallucinogen, in his system.
Kunzweiler repeatedly asked jurors if they thought that having addiction issues, health problems, mental illness, or disabilities can affect whether someone is a “victim of a crime.” Crutcher had the aforementioned PCP in his system at the time of the shooting and was missing a right eyeball. His mental health has never been spoken about publicly, but that line of questioning could be a nod to that coming up at some point during the trial.
Kunzweiler asked a few jurors who noted they knew someone with mental health or drug and/or alcohol issues whether they would ever be violent toward that person. All the jurors responded no.
Jury selection continues Wednesday morning, and Drummond seemed to indicate the two sides appear close to finalizing the jury. That would mean that testimony could start by noon Wednesday.
The trial is expected to last into next week.