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Libby Jury Selection Includes Some Surprises


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Jury selection is expected to be completed today in the trial of Lewis Libby, known to his friends and now by many others as Scooter. The vice president's former chief of staff is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG: It's taken longer than expected to select a jury. At the end of last week, the pool of jurors who had not been excused for cause had been narrowed to 30, with six more needed before peremptory strikes take place. The selection process has been, well, weirder than usual. First of all, the group of 60 potential jurors looks to be about 80 percent white, in a city that is 62 percent non-white, and where juries typically are overwhelmingly minority.

Nobody at the courthouse seems to know why the anomaly, though nobody disputes it either. In a city with a relatively small jury pool, it also seems that almost every juror called has some connection, either to one of the witnesses, lawyers, or players. What's more, in this case rife with journalistic stars as witnesses, there seem to be an uncommon number of journalists in the jury pool. One former journalist not only worked for two years for Bob Woodward at the Washington Post, and Woodward is expected to be a key defense witness; the juror also lives across the street from NBC's Tim Russert, expected to be a key prosecution witness.

Then there was the Washington Post reporter who told the judge she had concerns about being a juror because of her job. Well, you're an American, aren't you? You could be fair, the judge said. Yes, she acknowledged, but I'm a gossip. That's what we do. In the end, she was excused, not because she's a reporter or a gossip, but because she acknowledged she didn't trust Vice President Cheney.

The defense is trying to get anyone off the jury who has questions about Cheney, President Bush, or their conduct of the Iraq war. And by and large, if anyone is up front about any opposition, they are gone pretty quickly. Last Thursday, it took all day to get six jurors because so many in the pool expressed outright hostility about the president and his Iraq policy. Others were excused for related reasons.

An inspector general with the Department of Homeland Security conceded she views politicians with more skepticism, because they are quote, "like advertisers, always trying to shape consumer opinion." Even though she said she would treat them equally when they're under oath, she was gone. Not so, the preppy-looking attorney whose lawyer-fiancée represents journalist Bob Woodward in this very case. Would it be a problem if he saw his fiancée in the court when Woodward testifies?

No, the juror dutifully replied. He stayed in the pool. In some ways, this jury selection seems to be a particularly stark sociological study of the two Washingtons. Many of the African-American jurors, including those with college degrees and good jobs, have had unhappy brushes with the criminal justice system. One was excused after he expressed skepticism about any law enforcement official. He'd been arrested four times, he said, all mistakenly, one even on his 16th birthday.

Another juror, a graphics designer with a security clearance, well spoken, dressed in a conservative suit, volunteered that he's an ex-offender. Ten years ago, he told the judge, he'd done a year's time in a halfway house. I'm afraid we'll have to excuse you, the judge said. A sad rueful smile crossed the man's face. That's all right, he said. They never pick me for juries anyway. And then there was the retired postal worker, a picture-perfect grandmother. Her nephew was shot and killed. Her son pled guilty to a drug charge. Did he do time, the judge asked? You ought to know, your honor. You sentenced him. Did she harbor any anger over that? Oh no, she replied. It was his fault.

The woman said she gets her news from the Washington Post and by watching TV. And does she ever watch Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" on Sundays? The juror looked slightly offended. No, she said. I'm in church on Sundays.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.