ABOVE PHOTO: Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick walks to federal court on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 in Detroit. Jury selection in the corruption trial of Kilpatrick is entering an important stage as candidates appear in court for interviews. Federal Judge Nancy Edmunds and four defense attorneys will ask questions starting Thursday. The potential jurors will not be identified by name in court. Kilpatrick, his father Bernard, former city water boss Victor Mercado and Kilpatrick pal Bobby Ferguson are accused of a sweeping corruption scheme. The Kilpatricks are accused of shaking down contractors who wanted business or favors from Detroit city hall. All have pleaded not guilty.
(AP Photo/Detroit News, David Coates)
Detroit free press
The Detroit Free Press reported last week that the only two African Americans who appeared for jury selection this morning in ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s public corruption trial were dismissed: one couldn’t afford to miss work and the other said she couldn’t judge people.
It was an upsetting development for the defense, which has discussed the need for a diverse jury pool in the trial getting under way in U.S. District Court against the former Detroit mayor and three others.
“I’m not God. I can’t judge anybody,” said the prospective juror, who also noted she didn’t want to sit on the case.
The defense and prosecution agreed to let her go. Those individuals were among four who were dismissed this morning.
A special education teacher was excused because the case would have interfered with her job. Another woman from Jackson, who didn’t have to appear this morning, was excused for health reasons.
So far, six prospective jurors have cleared the initial hurdle to sit on the panel that will decide the fate of Kilpatrick and the others. One prospective juror is a man who was convicted of domestic assault and marijuana possession and says he believes Kilpatrick is brilliant.
The other five prospective jurors who advanced into the pool this morning are:
- A school psychologist who tailgates to Lions games with police officers, says she doesn’t follow the news, and noted that politics give her migraines.
- A retired autoworker who said he knew Kilpatrick had been “convicted of having a girlfriend” but knows little about the federal case.
- A supervisor at an electronics company who said she knows nothing about the case.
- A video game and science fiction fan who runs a copy printer for an Office Depot. He said he knew nothing about the federal case, and just some about Kilpatrick’s prior state case, which he described as “a civil trial involving a mistress — something about text messages … it didn’t interest me.”
- A man who expressed strong feelings about minorities facing discrimination in the criminal justice system. He said many minorities go to jail, and local law enforcement sometimes treats minorities unfairly. Of the six prospective jurors, five are white.
The goal is to pick 66 prospective jurors, and then whittle the pool down to the final 12 jurors and six alternates.
With six in the pool, the lawyers have 60 more to agree on. Then the challenges begin, where each side can strike prospective jurors without giving a reason. At today’s proceeding, they have to show cause for letting them go.
During the proceeding, Kilpatrick appeared relaxed as he leaned back in his chair and had his right hand resting on his cheek for most of the questioning. His codefendant and longtime contractor friend Bobby Ferguson smiled often and glanced Kilpatrick’s way several times.
Defendant Bernard Kilpatrick, Kilpatrick’s father, showed little to no expression during jury selection, nor did ex-water boss Victor Mercado, the fourth defendant and outsider of the group.
Among the noteworthy revelations that surfaced during jury selection was that none of the prospective jurors knows Mercado, whose defense strategy will rely on separating himself from the others. He has long argued he was never part of Kilpatrick’s inner circle, and he also was extorted by Kilpatrick — a claim he plans to argue to jurors at trial, per court records.
Of the nine prospective jurors who appeared for questioning this morning, none said they know Mercado or had ever heard of him before. Mercado, a Kilpatrick appointee, ran the water department for six years and earned $240,000 overseeing the $1-billion department. He now works at a hardware store in Florida for about $10 an hour.
Kilpatrick, Bernard Kilpatrick, Ferguson and Mercado are charged with running a criminal enterprise through the mayor’s office to enrich themselves. Specifically, they are accused of rigging water contracts to steer work Ferguson’s way, extorting other contractors and hiding the scheme from investigators. All four deny the charges.
Jury selection was continuing at 1 PM.