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Judge, attorneys in Durham trial look for jurors untainted by media reports

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A federal judge and a handful of attorneys are on track to select the group of men and women who could determine the fate of indicted financier Tim Durham and co-defendants Jim Cochran and Rick Snow.

The day-long jury-selection process, which began Friday morning in U.S. District Court, launched what's expected to be a three-week trial on 10 counts of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud stemming from the collapse of Fair Finance.

Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson led the effort, which began with written questionnaires for dozens of potential members of the jury.

The judge and attorneys for both sides questioned potential jurors who noted they were familiar with the case via media reports or who expressed concern about their ability to be impartial. The winnowing process began immediately.  

"He took money from people's pensions and spent it on fun things," one woman said in noting she had a preconceived notion of the case.

She was released as a potential juror a few minutes later.

An elderly man in the jury pool asked to change his answer on a questionnaire as to whether he could be an impartial juror, from "yes" to "no."

The judge asked him to explain.

"As a retired person, I think it would be a horrible thing to scam a retired person out of their life savings," he responded.

He also was dismissed from the jury.

Most objections to individual jurors came from the defense, after some potential jurors acknowledged they had already formed an opinion on Durham or had a bias against those accused of financial crimes.

But the government successfully moved to dismiss a juror who recalled a chance encounter with Durham at a restaurant in New Castle. Both were dining at the restaurant, and the man complimented Durham on his car parked outside. Durham picked up the man's dinner tab.

Jurors were asked to fill out a questionnaire explaining what they had heard or read about the case. At least three of them confused the Durham matter with the Marcus Schrenker case, in which a Geist area money manager attempted to fake his own death in a plane crash to avoid prosecution for a financial scheme.

That wasn't necessarily a problem, Magnus-Stinson explained, if the potential jurors could approach the Durham case fresh and decide based on the merits of the evidence presented in court.

Jurors who made the first cut were ushered into the courtroom for a reading of the indictment against Durham and his co-defendants, followed by more questioning by the judge and attorneys.

They were scheduled to repeat the process with another large group of potential jurors Friday afternoon, questioning them until both sides are satisfied with a group of 12 jurors and four alternates.

The judge said the trial could last three weeks and noted the jurors would be paid a nominal $40 per day, plus parking and meals.

The jury would be allowed to go home at night but would be barred from discussing the case with anyone, including family members.

For all of IBJ's coverage of Fair Finance and Durham, click here.
 

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