Olga Franco jury selection to resume todayby Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio
Jury selection continues Tuesday in the trial of Olga Franco, who is accused of crashing a van into a school bus and killing four children in Cottonwood. Six jurors were sworn in during the first day of the trial.
St. Paul, Minn. — The seated jurors include two retired nurses, a high school teacher and coach, an engineer, a collection agency worker and a stay at home mother of six.
They will be part of a jury of 12 people and two or three alternates.
Six potential jurors were dismissed, including a law enforcement official who knew at least two potential witnesses in the case.
Olga Franco attended the hearing wearing a gray business suit. Before jury selection got underway she shared a long tearful embrace with a woman who identified herself as Franco's aunt.
Franco, who is from Guatemala, sat next to her attorney and listened to the entire process through a set of headphones, as an interpreter translated for her.
Immigration authorities say Franco is in the country illegally, and the issue of immigration featured prominently in the questions of defense attorney Manuel Guerrero.
He asked all potential jurors if they understand that Franco's immigration status is not a factor in this trial.
One juror said if Franco had lied about her immigration status, she was capable of lying about other matters, but the woman was eventually seated on the jury after saying she could set aside the issue of immigration in deciding the case.
Guerrero's questions also touched on one character in the case who was missing from the courtroom: Franco's boyfriend. The defense maintains he was driving the van and fled the scene after crashing into the school bus. The police have been unable to locate him.
There have been reports that Franco was fighting with her boyfriend at the time of the crash. Guerrero asked potential jurors if they had ever directly experienced domestic violence or know someone who has, and if those experiences would affect their ability to vote without any biases.
Witnesses in the case may include children who were riding on the bus. Prosecutor Richard Maes asked potential jurors if they have children, and if their children ever lied about doing something wrong or blamed another sibling.
He also asked potential jurors about law enforcement: Whether they believe the police do a good job? Is there an area on which they need to focus more? Do they believe federal law enforcement does a good job? Do they think the technology used to solve crimes on television shows, like "CSI," is realistic?
Judge David Peterson moved the trial from Marshall to Willmar, to ensure a fair jury pool. Peterson asked potential jurors to recount anything they had seen or heard about this case in news reports. All said they had at least some exposure to the case, but most said they hadn't followed it since the initial reports.
Jury selection resumes today. Testimony is likely to begin at the end of this week.
- Morning Edition, 07/29/2008, 7:20 a.m.