September 16, 2014 3:05 pm
Updated: November 10, 2014 7:10 pm

Magnotta trial: The art of jury selection

An artists' impression of Luka Magnotta is shown at the Montreal Courthouse in Montreal, Monday, September 9, 2014.

Delphine Bergeron/Global News

A juror needs to be able to look the man in the eyes – without preconceived notions of his guilt or innocence.

In this case, that man is accused of murdering and dismembering a 33-year-old university student, recording the event on video and posting it online. He’s accused of leaving the victim’s torso in a locked suitcase in a pile of garbage, his head in a Montreal park and mailing other body parts to federal political parties and Vancouver schools.

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Jury selection in the first-degree murder trial of Luka Magnotta entered its second phase this week. The 32-year-old has pleaded not guilty to five charges including murder, committing an indignity to a body, publishing obscene material, criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament and mailing obscene and indecent material.

READ MORE: Father of Magnotta’s alleged victim wants ‘obscene’ evidence kept under wraps

The pool of 1,600 potential jurors summoned last week has been whittled down to about 300. The court intends to vet up to 24 prospective jurors each day until they have selected 16, of which 14 will hear the trial.

At this point in the process, all potential jurors gather in a room with the accused, defence counsel, Crown prosecution, judge and court clerk, criminal defence lawyer Solomon Friedman explained in an interview with Global News.

‘Look upon the accused’

A potential juror’s number is called and that person stands before counsel, the judge and the defendant.

“The clerk says, ‘Juror, look upon the accused. Accused, look upon the juror,’” Friedman said. “Then each side is given the opportunity to challenge.”

Crown and defence lawyers have the opportunity to question the potential juror with the aim of rooting out any bias.

Some of the 300 potential jurors will be possibly be dismissed “for cause,” after their answer to a question reveals  the individual isn’t impartial on account of pre-trial publicity.

“You’re not expecting a juror will come in with no knowledge of the case, especially in high-profile cases,” said Michael Spratt, criminal defence lawyer in Ottawa.

“What is demanded and required of jurors is that they have an open mind despite what they heard. And the only way to canvass that is through the very brief question – do you have an open mind? Has the pre-trial publicity influenced you in any way?”

WATCH: Global Montreal’s Domenic Fazioli was on the ground when jury selection began in the first-degree murder trial of Luka Magnotta.


Jury selection strategies

Most of the trial will take place in English but some witnesses will testify in French, requiring all jurors be proficient in both languages. That requirement, among other reasons, meant hundreds of potential jurors were exempted last week.

The exhaustive process of selecting a bilingual jury could delay the presentation of evidence, scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 22.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer, who will oversee the trial, warned potential jurors last week they’ll hear evidence that could be difficult to deal with, because of the violent and the sexual nature of some exhibits.

READ MORE: Judge rules that Crown can go to Europe to get evidence in Magnotta case

Beyond that, the defence and prosecution will be able to dismiss a potential juror using a “peremptory challenge,” in which counsel does not need to give a specific reason for showing someone the door.

Different lawyers have different strategies when selecting jury members, and different cases call for different strategies, said Friedman, partner at Ottawa’s Edelson Clifford D’Angelo Friedman.

“In some cases, you want the touch of a common person, and for other cases, that are maybe highly technical, or may have a more emotional or inflammatory element, you may want to eliminate a jury,” he said.

Discussing defence strategies in relation to the Magnotta case is difficult, Friedman said, because the case is “so bizarre” and “so unusual and so hyper-sensationalized.”

Desirable and undesirable jurors

“So if we step back a bit, what I want in a juror is someone I think can empathize with my client. Either they can put themselves in his or her shoes and ask, ‘how would I have reacted in this circumstance?’” he said. “You want people who come from either similar professional backgrounds, walks of life or socioeconomic brackets, people who you think could imagine themselves in your client’s shoes.”

Neither the Crown nor defence is provided with much information about potential jurors — only their names, addresses and occupations.

The search for someone who can empathize with a person facing criminal charges, coupled with that limited information, means lawyers have come to know some professions as desirable and others undesirable for their juries.

“Many different lawyers have many different views on that,” Friedman said. “It’s not terribly scientific.”

Sometimes, the defence prefers scientists and engineers, he said, because those individuals are used to stripping emotion out of decisions and investigations.

Teachers, however, are rarely a defence lawyer’s number one choice, he said. “They seem to be judgy sometimes.”

WATCH: Magnotta’s lawyer explains what he’s looking for in a juror

On the other side of the coin, Spratt said, some lawyers actually like teachers because teachers often see that people can change.

“Teachers might know that even good people make mistakes or that even kids who are labelled problem kids can be completely innocent,” he said.

“There’s a bit of voodoo there, and gut instinct on who you challenge and who you don’t challenge. … But the old expression is, ‘trying to guess what a juror is thinking is a fool’s game.’”

So that gut instinct and preconceived notions loom large during this phase of the jury selection, Spratt said.

“When the juror is asked to look at the accused, if the juror looks my client in the eye, doesn’t flinch and is able to do that stoically, then that gives me some confidence they would be able to dispassionately apply the law,” he said. “If they flinch or don’t look, or have a grimace on their face when they look at my client, then that causes me some concern and I might challenge.”

But the most important characteristic Friedman says he looks for in a juror is interest.

“I like to look at the jurors as they’re sitting there, in the body of the court before they’ve been called up, to see who’s playing on their cellphone, who looks bored, who looks like they wish they weren’t there,” he said. “Nobody, neither the Crown nor the defence, wants jurors who don’t want to be there.”

Magnotta is a native of Scarborough, Ont., who, according to police, set up dozens of Internet user names and maintained 70 Facebook pages and 20 websites.

As the investigation into Jun Lin’s death progressed, Magnotta was discovered to have left the country, triggering an international manhunt Montreal police said was the largest in which they had taken part.

Interpol became involved and Magnotta was arrested without incident at a Berlin Internet cafe on June 4, several days after Lin’s slaying.

He returned to Canada a few weeks later, escorted by several Montreal police major-crimes detectives aboard a Canadian government plane.

With files from The Canadian Press

© 2014 Shaw Media

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