Friday, February 3, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Voir Dire!

UPDATED: February 3rd, 7:15 pm

Sherri Rae Rasmussen, victim

Voir Dire: (English pronunciation: /ˈvwɑr ˌdiər/)

According to wikipedia, voir dire is a legal phrase that comes from the Anglo-Norman language. In origin it refers to an oath to tell the truth (Latin verum dicere), i.e., to say what is true, what is objectively accurate or subjectively honest, or both. In the United States, it now generally refers to the process by which prospective jurors are questioned about their backgrounds and potential biases before being chosen to sit on a jury. It also refers to the process by which expert witnesses are questioned about their backgrounds and qualifications before being allowed to present their opinion testimony in court.

I've been told by many sources over the last four years of covering high-profile cases that voir dire is the most important part of a trial. It's where a trial can be won, lost (depending on your perspective) or hung if you seat just one wrong juror. (Think Phil Spector's first trial. It's possible the defense took that hung jury as a win. The news media filmed images of Spector's young, trial bride wife waving at the media helicopters and dancing in the driveway of the Pyrenees Castle after they left the courthouse.) Some high profile trials utilize jury consultants and I don't know if either side will be using one in this trial.

I have not had the opportunity to attend many voir dire sessions and I do not know if I will get a seat for the Lazarus voir dire. (I do have a reserved seat for the rest of the trial.) The Spector retrial voir dire took five days and I did get to attend a portion of that. I watched the some of the Casey Anthony voir dire online. As soon as I get down to the courthose and know my status I'll post an update. I'm taking the train today since Mr. Sprocket has not finished working on my car.

Update 10:43am:
We are on break. I got a seat at voir dire. Mark Overland was first up and has used up his allotted hour of questioning. Ten of the 84 that came in were excused before voir dire started. After the break, the prosecution will get their hour at the first forty jurors. More at the lunch break.

Update 12:37 pm:
I'm finally in the cafeteria. After the initial hour for each side of voir dire, there were two jurors excused for cause. (More on that process tonight when I get home.) Then the parties moved onto the presumptive challenges. Each side gets 20 challenges. As my stomach was grumbling, Judge Perry went 30 minutes into the normal lunch hour, trying to seat a jury before lunch. Counsel went through the first 50 jurors without seating 12 jurors. We return at 1:45 pm to begin vior dire with the next group.

Update 7:16 pm:
I'm sorry. This will be a short update for now. I got home around 6:00 pm (exhausted) since I had to take the train and bus all the way home. Mr. Sprocket was still working on the car and couldn't come pick me up. The 8 women, 4 men jury was seated around 3:30 pm. The six alternates, 2 women and 4 men were seated about ten minutes later. I'm sure in a few days the mainstream media will have more information on the jurors once their jury questionnaires have been released. If I can get a copy from my friends in the media, I will see if I can find a way to post them.

John Ruetten attended voir dire in the company of Sherri Rae Rasmussen's family. This is the first time that I have seen him at court since I started covering the trial. I also noticed that Scott Young, Lazarus' husband was carrying a soft back copy of the Holy Bible along with a spiral notebook. There were several people there from Lazarus' family as well as Sherri's family. A sister of Sherri's introduced herself to me and I'm sorry to say that I was so flustered I forgot her name. Please give me some time to write up my notes on voir dire tonight and over the weekend.


Anonymous said...

I was one of the two jurors excused this morning. Your account of what is happening is spot on. I will follow the rest of the trial through your blog.

Anonymous said...

As one of the juror's excused, I wonered who the people were behind us in the court. I have a better idea thanks to your blog. Keep up the good work.

Sprocket said...

Thank you so much for your jury service, excused jurors.

In the last row today were family members of the defendant as well as the victim. There were several members of the press who have been following the case since the beginning. Over on the far right, in front of the bailiff's desk were members of LAPD, some of whom investigated the case.

Would you be willing to share your perceptions on your experiences over the two days you were in court? You can contact me vial E-mail if you feel uncomfortable writing your thoughts here.

Again, thank you for your service.

Anonymous said...

Hi again. I think I might have been your first commenter months back from Florida. As always, great coverage. You really paint a great picture of the proceedings. There was someone on one of your blogs that said he/she once knew Stephanie. Can you share their thoughts? Fred cautioned you about her gamma eyes, but seriously, if the eyes are the windows to our souls, her house is empty. The excused jurors saying how accurate you are is just more of a reason to keep reading your articles.

Sprocket said...

Anon @ 9:39 pm:

Thank you! I posted my interview with one of Stephanie's dorm mates, on January 16th, 2012.

Anonymous said...

I would be happy to share my experience, just let me know what you would like to know. How do I email you?

Sprocket said...

The link to my E-mail is on my Blogger Profile page. If you can't find that its:

sprocket.trials "AT"