Attorneys start culling a pool of 60 potential jurors Wednesday to select 12 plus three alternates for next week’s retrial of Kareem Lane in the 1992 fatal stabbing of then-Muscogee County School Superintendent Jim Burns.
Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters has set aside this week for jury selection, with the trial to begin Monday.
The 60 left were picked Tuesday from an initial pool of 104 prospective jurors ushered into Peters’ ninth-floor Government Center courtroom at 11 a.m.After three hours of considering “hardship” excuses, Peters dismissed about 25 for circumstances such as work, family or health needs.
Their reasons varied: One woman had a 2-month-old son she was breast-feeding; another had joined the Peace Corps and was shipping out to Colombia; a third was on supplemental oxygen and regularly had to replenish her supply; a fourth said his brother was on life-support and his family in crisis.
Besides 26 who claimed hardships, eight in the initial pool told Peters they had looked up the case online when they were summoned. Two said they had an opinion of the case; two said they did not; and one man answered, “I’m not sure.”
“You have no opinion on whether you’ve formed an opinion?” Peters quipped.
The judge sometimes had to ask jurors to come to him to address their issues privately, to avoid tainting the entire pool with any prejudice publicly expressed.
Sometimes Peters had to interrupt them to avoid that. “Come forward!” the judge said quickly when one man stood and said, “The question I have is, after 22 years....”
Not everyone was excused as soon as they thought they should be. A woman who reported spending a year in the Russell County jail after her arrest on a felony drug charge said she did not care for the court system in general.
When she wasn’t cut from the remaining 60, she spoke up again, saying she wasn’t sure everyone heard her the first time she said she really did not like the judicial system. Peters said her issues would be addressed as jury selection continued.
Defense attorney Stacey Jackson and lead prosecutor George Lipscomb are sifting through the pool with the aid of questionnaires prospective jurors completed to gauge their suitability.
Jury Manager Marsha Coram said her staff sent out 250 surveys, 111 of which were filled out and returned, with two people summoned saying they would bring their forms with them.
The trial is expected to take up to two weeks, with a Monday off for Labor Day.
In Lane’s first murder trial, jurors deliberated three days before Peters declared a mistrial Sept. 19, 2012, citing a hung jury. Those jurors voted 10-2 to find Lane innocent, but the two who thought him guilty held out.
Burns died Oct. 19, 1992, after a violent struggle with a burglar in the second-floor bedroom of his 620 Broadway home. He fought the intruder down the stairs to the front door, where he collapsed and bled to death from a stab wound to the back about 12:20 a.m.
Police stopped Lane, then a 17-year-old Shaw High School senior, about 1 a.m. that night on Macon Road near Rigdon Road, where he was driving a gray Ford Ranger pickup truck matching the description witnesses gave of a vehicle parked on Front Avenue, a few blocks from Burns’ home. The witnesses said they saw a man run to the truck and drive off about the time Burns was stabbed.
Police questioned Lane through the next day, then released him. He was not charged with Burns’ homicide until cold-case investigators obtained warrants for his arrest May 4, 2010.
He’s charged with “malice” or intentional murder and two counts of felony murder for causing a death while committing the felony offenses of burglary and aggravated assault.
Lane today remains free on $30,000 bond and lives in the Birmingham, Ala., area.