Sixty-one prospective jurors out of an original pool of 145 remain while attorneys today are scheduled to begin the final stage in selecting a jury for the felony retrial of San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock.
Four days of preliminary screening of potential jurors concluded Tuesday as Superior Court Judge William L. Todd Jr. excused eight people from possible service on the case, raising the number excused during the first two stages of the three-step selection process to 84.
Of those 84 people, 60 were excused because the length of the trial, expected to run through mid-October, would have imposed severe personal or professional hardships on them. Most of the other 24 were eliminated after conceding during a second round of questioning that the extensive publicity about the case would cause them to enter the trial leaning toward either conviction or acquittal.
Under the ground rules established by Todd, Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Wickersham and defense attorney Oscar Goodman have been limited to asking potential jurors about their knowledge of Hedgecock's first case and how that might affect their deliberations in the retrial.
However, when the general voir dire--the final stage in the selection process--starts this morning, the competing attorneys will begin to probe more deeply into jurors' backgrounds, political beliefs and feelings about the case as they search for 12 jurors and four alternates.
During the final round of questioning, both Goodman and Wickersham will be able to request that Todd eliminate jurors whose backgrounds or impressions about the case raise doubts about their impartiality.
In addition, each attorney can exercise 10 peremptory challenges, in which he does not need to justify --and, more importantly, does not need Todd's approval of--his reason for wanting a juror removed. Rather, peremptory challenges can be used, in Goodman's words, to "get rid of someone just because you don't like the way he parts his hair."
"I've never not used all my peremptories, and I don't expect to this time, either," Goodman said.
Today's process will begin with 12 jurors selected at random from the remaining 61 candidates. Those 12 individuals will respond to a list of general questions covering subjects including their personal and business backgrounds, prior jury service and whether they, their family members or close friends have ever been involved in the criminal justice system. Each potential juror then will be interrogated by both Wickersham and Goodman.
As individual jurors are eliminated, new prospects from the list of 61 will be brought into the jurors' box to undergo the same process, which will be repeated until both attorneys agree on 12 jurors and four alternates.
Hedgecock faces 15 felony charges of conspiracy and perjury and a single misdemeanor count stemming from allegations of illegal personal and campaign financial aid from J. David (Jerry) Dominelli and Nancy Hoover, who were principals in the now-bankrupt La Jolla investment firm of J. David & Co. The mayor's first trial ended in a mistrial in February with the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction.
Seven of the eight prospective jurors who were excused Tuesday told Todd that they were inclined to believe that Hedgecock is guilty, while the eighth was excused after producing a letter from his employer explaining that he would not be paid for the work he would miss during the trial.
Goodman repeatedly asked potential jurors whether they believed that Hedgecock, despite his narrow avoidance of conviction in his first trial, would "start off on an even keel and with a clean slate" in the retrial. The seven jurors eliminated Tuesday "for cause," like others excused earlier, admitted that, at least in their minds, the mayor could no longer count on being accorded the basic legal guarantee of being considered innocent until proven guilty.
"I feel there has been some wrong by the mayor," said Kiril G. Donnelly. Prospective juror Helen R. Helvey also said she believes that Hedgecock is guilty, adding: "I really thought the jury (in the first trial) should have all (voted) guilty. I didn't see how one man could hang up the entire jury."
"Something must have happened --that's why you had the trial to begin with," said Ann Dion. Dion also succinctly pointed out the difficulty in finding impartial jurors in light of the extensive publicity over the last 18 months, saying, "A person would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not have heard something in the past about this." Todd excused Dion, along with Donnelly and Helvey, from the case.
Several of the jurors who passed the second round of questioning Tuesday noted that many of their friends believe that Hedgecock is guilty, but explained that those opinions have not influenced them.