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DIXON TRIAL: Day One -- Picking a Jury



There are several differences between observing a day-long jury-selection process and watching paint dry.

One of them is that the latter process, once completed, usually turns out to be more reliable — certainly more predictable — than the former. Another is that there is, for better and for worse, more out-of-nowhere sociology involved in watching a jury get picked.

Example: After an entire day of interrogating prospective jurors for the Tennessee Waltz trial of former state Senator Roscoe Dixon, U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla found himself straying into an epiphany of sorts late on Tuesday afternoon. Interviewing the umpteenth candidate for an alternate’s position, a young African-American woman, McCalla asked her — identified only as “Juror Number 13” for the purpose — the usual probing questions about the subjects on which she might expect to find bias in the world about her. The point was, of course, to unearth her own potential biases in the process.

Race, she answered. And gender.

Anything else? McCalla asked.

Well, the young woman said, once in a while she’d come upon people with a snotty attitude about Frayser.


Yes, that really happened. The lamentable thing was that, after being responsible for so original a contribution to both criminology and sociology, the woman was rejected as a juror. It was unclear as to how or why — either through peremptory challenge by the prosecution or defense, through arbitrary judgment by Judge McCalla himself, or by conference between the judge and the two legal teams.

What happened next to another woman — prospective “Juror Number 14” —who had been sitting next to the expunged juror was less difficult to understand. The very presence of this woman, a comely blonde, had been responsible for raising the hopes of an out-of-town reporter on the back row who   had lamented what was shaping up to be what someone else called a “salt of the earth” jury and was openly lusting for her to stay.

It was not to be. This woman — with an oceanside cabana already rented at Daytona, perhaps? — seemed to be looking for ways to get herself disqualified. Early on in her catechism with McCalla, she had proclaimed bluntly, “I’m somewhat biased about politicians.”

Just in case that wouldn’t do it, she later on responded to McCalla’s statement of surprise that so many members of the jury pool had not seemed to have read much about the felonies that Dixon was accused of.

“Well, that would be good for the defense,” the woman volunteered. Meaning, all too arguably, that only the most ignorant of fools could take seriously any of that Presumption of Innocence B.S.


This is the real world, not a sitcom in which Plain Talk, however errant, is forgiven. After a conference between the judge and the two legal teams, potential “Juror Number 14” was outta there.

Ultimately, though a jury was chosen. Seven whites, five blacks, a majority of women. And two replacements, both women, for the two expunged alternatives.

Once the full component of 14 was impaneled, McCalla advised them of the usual precautions — notably that of avoiding any conversation whatsoever, either at home or with each other, about the case at hand.

"The moment you start articulating something, you start to make up your mind,” he warned.

With or without such articulation, it is lat least possible that the jurors will start making up their minds as soon as the two legal teams’ opening statements are presented, beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Assistant U.S. attorney Tim DiScenza told the judge that he wouldn’t be needing electronic equipment for his opening statement, which he expected to take no more than 30 minutes. But, said the prosecutor, he would be availing himself of such technology, beginning with the first witness.

What that means, most likely, is some good grainy undercover video right out of the box. That poor woman who tried so hard to get herself excused doesn’t know what she’ll be missing.

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