66 potential witnesses may be called in Abril trial

Published 1:17 pm Monday, August 4, 2008

A second group of potential jurors was to be sworn in Tuesday morning, and then would be sent off to fill out the questionnaire, Guice said, and continuing until 12 jurors and &dquo;four or five alternates&dquo; were approved and seated. Guice said last Friday he expected the jury selection process to take most of this week, with testimony in the trial beginning next Monday.

The questionnaire given to the potential jurors included several dozen questions seeking personal information, age, residence, family background, employment, education, military service and personal activities.

One question specifically asks if the respondent has participated or assisted in &dquo;any local soccer teams or clubs.&dquo; Abril has been well known as a soccer player and youth soccer coach in Polk County.

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Several questions deal with the 2006 sheriff&squo;s race between Abril and former Sheriff David Satterfield, and even how the charges brought against Abril affected the respondent&squo;s voting decision. Several questions ask how media coverage of the case over the past two years has affected the respondent&squo;s thinking and knowledge of the case.

The potential jurors were asked about their past jury service, personal criminal record, and experience with crime in general, as well as their feelings about law enforcement personnel and expert witnesses.

Two questions probe the potential jurors&squo; feelings about immigrants and experiences with unfair treatment based on a person&squo;s cultural heritage.

Several questions deal with sexual crimes specifically. &dquo;Have you, or a family member, a close friend or associate, ever been falsely accused of sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual molestation or rape?&dquo; reads one question.

Another asks if the juror believes &dquo;it is possible for a child or young person to make up a story about being sexually involved with another person.&dquo;

Still another asks if the potential juror believes &dquo;it is possible that one of the reasons a person might develop serious emotional and behavorial problems during their lifetime might be that the person experienced some type of sexual trauma when they were young.&dquo;

The jurors were asked about their relationship to or knowledge of the parties to the case, the attorneys and any of the 66 listed potential witnesses.

The questionnaire asks several questions about matters of law. One asks if a juror would be able to follow the law and find a defendant guilty of statutory rape, even if the girl consented, understanding that under N.C. law a girl cannot legally consent until she is at least 16 years old. This case involves two girls who were ages 10 and 11 at the time of the alleged crimes in the late 1980s.

The jurors are asked if the fact that the charges stem from incidents which are alleged to have occured 20 years ago &dquo;will keep you from being a fair and impartial juror.&dquo;

After completing his questionnaire, one potential juror called out, &dquo;Chris,&dquo; to Abril as he was walking down the courtroom aisle and tried to hand the completed questionnaire to him.

&dquo;Nuh-uh,&dquo; the bailiff called out. &dquo;I&squo;ll take that,&dquo; clerk of court Charlene Owens said, hurrying over.

In addition to the jurors, all seated on the right side of the Polk County Courthouse courtroom, there were just a few friends and observers in attendance Monday, along with a half dozen lawyers hauling heavy leather satchels, and, of course, Abril.

Courthouse Street was closed and Rutherford County deputies and Columbus Police officers were spread out around the courthouse square Monday morning. Rutherford deputies monitored a metal detector at the courthouse door.

Guice dismissed the jurors for lunch with a warning not to talk to anyone about the case, not to listen or read any reports on the case, and not to do any private investigation of the case on their own.

&dquo;If you see one of the lawyers or witnesses inside or outside the courtroom, don&squo;t even say hello to them, even if you&squo;ve known them all your life,&dquo; Guice said.