Jury selection hints at strategies to comeby Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio
Opening statements in the Olga Franco trial begin later this morning. Franco is charged with killing 4 children by crashing a minivan into a school bus last February in Cottonwood.
It took the better part of three days to select a panel of 12 jurors and three alternates for the high-profile case.
The jury selection process provided a preview of some of the major issues likely to come up in the trial.
St. Paul, Minn. — As the attorneys and the judge in the case questioned more than three dozen potential jurors, several themes featured prominently.
The Defense attorneys frequently asked about the credibility of DNA evidence, which will likely play a central role in the trial.
Last month, defense attorney Manuel Guerrero said the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension found none of Franco's DNA on the van's two front airbags, but did find the DNA of an unidentified male.
The finding appears to be a key piece of evidence for Franco. She maintains her boyfriend was driving the van when it crashed, even though a first responder said he found her pinned behind the steering wheel.
Franco initially told police she was driving the van, but later switched her story and blamed her boyfriend.
Guerrero asked potential jurors about their familiarity with domestic violence. According to news reports, Franco has said her boyfriend hit her, and that before he fled the accident scene he threatened her life if she told anyone about him.
On the prosecution side, attorney Richard Maes seemed particularly interested in knowing why some jurors like crime shows and whether they thought the forensic technology such as DNA analysis used to solve crimes in such shows like CSI is realistic.
He also asked potential jurors who are parents why they think their children lie and shift blame to others when they do something wrong.
All of them said children are afraid of consequences. Maes also wanted to know from jurors if they trust law enforcement, fire fighters, and first responders to do a good job.
One of the most prominent themes in the questions to potential jurors was an issue that is irrelevant to the trial: immigration.
Many of the people questioned expressed strong opinions about Latinos and illegal immigration on juror questionnaires and in the court room.
One juror who was eventually sworn in said people who are in this country illegally do not deserve the same constitutional protections as citizens and residents.
But some of the people who expressed such views were seated on the jury after pledging to set aside those opinions.
Defense attorneys explained that Franco's immigration status is a civil matter and not an issue for the jury to consider.
The trial is expected to last two weeks.
- Morning Edition, 07/31/2008, 7:20 a.m.