Voir dire means “to speak the truth” in French. In the legal community, it is the lawyers’ chance to ask questions of the potential jurors to see which to strike, and which to keep. On the first day of jury selection for the murder trial of Mark Jensen, the judge, prosecutors, and defense attorney took a methodical approach to the first day of voir dire. The following would happen eight times. The first voir dire was limited to only which were familiar with the case, and to what extent.
A bailiff would bring in ten potential jurors to the court room. The deputy clerk then swore in all 10 jurors at once, with their right hands raised.
After that, Judge Milisauskas introduced himself and thanked the jurors for coming to the court room today. “Many people died for our right to a jury trial,” said Milisauskas to one set of potential jurors. “Some places in the world, you have a trial in front of a judge, there is no evidence, and they execute you in an hour.”
The prosecution would then introduce themselves – Special Prosecutor Bob Jambois, Deputy District Attorney Carli McNeill, public service special prosecutor Beverly Jambois (Bob’s wife), and jury expert Joyce Erickson.
Next, the defense – Attorneys Bridget Krause, Jeremy Perri, and Mackenzie Renner. “We have the privilege of representing Mr. Mark Jensen,” Krause said as she pointed to the defendant.
Next, Judge Milisauskas gave the potential jurors a short synopsis of the case. He told them that Mark Jensen is being accused of murdering his wife by poisoning her with antifreeze and then smothering her. He then told the potential jurors that the defense’s theory was that Mark did not kill Julie Jensen, but instead Julie committed suicide. “This is only a charging document, the defendant is presumed innocent,” said Judge Milisauskas to all panels. During the first phase of the voir dire, less than half of the potential jurors indicated that they have heard about the case. Some went to high school with Jensen or knew his family. Some told the court, they couldn’t judge the case based exclusively off of the evidence or had a bias. Most of those potential jurors were stricken with cause.
Out of the 80 jurors that were summoned, 65 remained for the second phase of voir dire. Jambois told the potential jurors that there were 78 witnesses for the prosecution and the estimated duration of the trial is four to five weeks. The defense team told the court they had 33 witnesses. Some are duplicates of the prosecution’s witnesses.This daunting time commitment weeded out some college students and self-employed folks.
When court adjourned for the day, there was seemingly much work to be done with selecting a jury. Tomorrow, more potential jurors will be brought over from other trials.