The cold case murder trial of Kareem L. Lane could last between two and three weeks, Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters said this morning, the first day of jury selection.
The prosecution's case, some two decades in the making, is expected to turn on complicated testimony and DNA evidence that allegedly ties Lane to the 1992 fatal stabbing of Jim Burns, then the Muscogee County schools superintendent.
Prosecutors called the names of 89 potential witnesses, including a number of current and retired law enforcement officials, as well as family members of Burns. School Board member John Wells and Jim Wetherington, the former Columbus mayor and police chief, are among those who could be called to testify.
Defense attorney Stacey S. Jackson listed about 16 potential witnesses, with at least one name, Lane's father, also appearing on the state's roster.
"It could be a long trial," Peters told prospective jurors, who filled the gallery of the ninth floor courtroom in the Columbus Government Center. "You'll know whether or not you're on the jury in the next couple of days."
The long-awaited trial marks another high-profile cold case prosecution by District Attorney Julia Slater, who will be helping Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore. The case, which languished for years and spawned several conspiracy theories, has come full circle for the investigators who first questioned Lane on the night of Burns' death.
Lane, a 17-year-old student at Shaw High School who lived in Midland at the time, was stopped driving a truck that fit the description of a vehicle seen leaving the area after Burns was stabbed.
Police said they found an empty knife sheath in the pickup and other possibly incriminating evidence. Lane was questioned at length but was released because investigators couldn't place him at the scene of the crime. He later moved to Pell City, Ala., and was arrested in May 2010 after the National Medical Services laboratory outside Philadelphia allegedly matched cells found on the knife that killed Burns to Lane's DNA.
Lane's supporters have maintained he was wrongfully charged and will be vindicated at trial. "I anxiously await the trial and Kareem's freedom," his wife, Carol, wrote in a blog post in May. "There is no doubt in my mind that he will be free."
While testimony will not begin until Sept. 4, attorneys today began the tedious process of paring down the pool of potential jurors. Despite the high-profile nature of the case, no juror said he or she had formed an opinion about the case or had any particular bias.
Dressed in a black suit and red shirt, Lane, 37, sat quietly at the defense table with his back to the potential jurors. He faced forward even as the attorneys turned their seats to face the gallery. At one point, he turned and waved so potential jurors could determine whether they knew him, but otherwise remained expressionless.
Attorneys will begin questioning potential jurors individually after lunch.