Hot potato plays out in jury selection for Trenton murder retrial of Shaheed Brown
“Your honor, please thank and excuse juror …”
No. 10 was the “hot seat” on the third day of jury selection in former Newark gang member Shaheed Brown’s second murder trial. Virtually anyone who sat in it Wednesday was a goner.
There was the AMC movie theater manager who said there was “nothing special about me.” The attorney for pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Meyers Squibb with the ex-husband who is a law professor at Howard. She was sent packing by Assistant Prosecutor Brian McCauley.
Another gunshy man couldn’t keep his voice up. It was a telltale sign for Judge Andrew Smithson that he was nervous and wasn’t a fit for a jury tasked with deciding whether former Brown gunned down Enrico Smalley Jr. outside of crime-ridden La Guira Bar in July 2014.
A young black woman, a student at Temple University in Philadelphia, was asked if she felt she would make a good juror. She candidly shook her head. The judge asked why.
She said she believed she would have trouble paying attention to evidence presented at trial.
One prospective juror, sitting in the gallery, remarked in a scornful tone, “She goes to Temple?”
It was the judicial version of Facebook, gossipy and high school-esque in all of its protracted glory as each prospective juror poured out their heart and beliefs for the attorneys and others to judge during an exhaustive – and exhausting – day of whittling down the field.
Jurors were asked about their tastes in books, music and television to questions about their personal lives and what bumper stickers are on their cars.
“I’d like you more if you were a dog,” one prospective female juror said about one plastered on the refrigerator in her kitchen.
Some answers were comical and piercing, particularly one from the ex-wife of a Ewing cop who didn’t hide her disdain for her former lover.
Smithson asked the woman about her views on law enforcement officials and if being married to one made her partial to cops.
“Are we talking about him or his views,” the woman responded, drawing laughs from those packed into the courtroom for the cattle call that is jury selection.
Despite the sensitive inquisitions, the mood inside the courtroom remained jocular due to chatter-box Smithson.
He cracked jokes, waxed poetic about his legal career and talked auto shop with one prospective juror, wanting to know more about how the man came to own a classic 1957 Chevy Bel Air.
Polarizing as he is to attorneys and reporters, prospective jurors connected with the old retired judge, who just a day before was drawing heat from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey for his decision to shut the press and public out of his courtroom for a private discussion with attorneys.
The closed-door meeting was prompted after defense attorney Edward Heyburn accused state police detective Joseph Itri of offering racist testimony at Brown’s first trial.
The cop testified that sagging pants on the streets were a pretty good indication if someone was armed with a handgun.
Prospective jurors were queried about how likely they were to believe the testimony of a police officer over a lay person.
Most people – even those with family members and friends in law enforcement – were unanimous the badge would not have any undue influence over them.
One woman said she viewed law enforcement officers as unimpeachable beacons of morality whom she respects.
She tried saving herself from getting the boot by adding, “if it was my child on trial, I would want him to get a fair trial.”
But it was of little use.
Heyburn asked the judge to excuse her, guaranteeing at least one more day of this tedious process.