OPELIKA, Ala. — A jury selection consultant said defense attorneys for a man accused of killing an Auburn University student appear to be looking for jurors who would be open to an insanity offense or the idea that the student may have been shot accidentally.
Defense and prosecuting attorneys spent a second day Tuesday questioning more than 100 potential jurors in Opelika for the trial of Courtney Lockhart. The questioning will continue Wednesday in the capital murder trial. If convicted, Lockhart could face the death penalty.
Lockhart, 26, an Army veteran from Smiths Station, Ala., who served in the Iraq war, is accused of kidnapping, robbing and shooting an 18-year-old freshman, Lauren Burk, of Marietta, Ga., on March 4, 2008.
Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III has placed everyone involved with the trial under a gag order that prohibits comments outside the courtroom.
In questioning potential jurors, defense attorneys have asked who has served in the military, who is familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder and whether they or any member of their family has ever been diagnosed with it.
Jury selection consultant Philip Anthony said Tuesday it appears the defense is looking for jurors who would be receptive to Lockhart’s plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
He said fewer people under 50 have military experience because of the volunteer military and aren’t likely to be familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder from combat.
“If they have served in the military, they are more likely to have known someone with post-traumatic stress syndrome,” said Anthony, chief executive of DecisionQuest in Los Angeles, in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Defense attorneys also asked potential jurors whether they believe a firearm can never accidentally discharge.
Anthony said that question seems designed for a defense that would argue the shooting of Burk was not intentional, and it might find more favor than an insanity defense because the average person is not an expert on whether a gun can discharge accidentally.
“One of the fundamental beliefs that people have is that a gun can go off accidentally. Why is that? They see it on TV all the time,” he said.
Prosecuting attorneys asked potential jurors if they were involved in a prison ministry or members of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Anthony said prosecutors are looking for jurors who are law-and-order oriented.
Anthony’s firm consults with lawyers about who would make the best jurors in civil and criminal cases. It has consulted on more than 18,000 cases over 33 years. Anthony has worked on several cases in Alabama, but is not involved with the Lockhart case.
Court officials hope to have a jury selected for the Lockhart trial by this afternoon and begin opening arguments Thursday. The judge has told potential jurors to expect a two-week trial.