By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
ALBUQUERQUE — With a series of hypothetical questions, showings of hands and criticisms of popular television shows, a panel of 65 men and women was pared down to 16 jurors in the case of a man accused of killing an elderly Portales couple.
Wednesday was the final day of jury selection for the trial of Stanley Bedford of Portales. Bedford, 43, faces two charges each of first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping, in addition to other lesser charges in connection with the deaths of Odis and Doris Newman of Portales.
If convicted, Bedford may face the death penalty.
The jury is composed of seven women and nine men. Of the jurors, nine are Caucasian and seven are Hispanic.
Michael Cox, a state attorney who is assisting the 9th Judicial District with its case, addressed the panel Wednesday afternoon in Albuquerque’s District Court.
While questioning potential jurors on their questionnaire responses, Cox indicated the jury’s role in keeping their judgments limited to the charges.
“Reasonable doubt is the highest standard,” Cox said. “We must meet it, but we only must prove it to the extent of the crime.”
Cox drew a hypothetical of a man facing car theft charges. The state would only need to prove the accused was driving the car at some point, he was doing it without the owner’s permission and it took place in the state’s jurisdiction. Other factors, Cox said, such as personal relationships or how the car was stolen had no bearing.
Defense attorney Gary Mitchell also asked the jurors to keep their work simple, and not to fall to the easy temptation to go online to find (or fill in) holes in either side’s argument.
“It’s not the jury’s duty to solve this case; it’s the state’s job,” Mitchell said. “You’d be shocked how many times jurors want to do that.”
Cox asked jurors what they thought of the concept of a witness who had taken a plea deal for lesser charges in exchange for testimony. Jerry Fuller of Portales accepted a plea agreement for similar charges and may testify in the case.
One panelist who made the jury said he would be able to listen to such a witness, but would have a healthy amount of skepticism. Cox accepted that answer.
“You’re now judging facts, you’re not judging people,” Cox said. “You’ll weigh credibility, but you won’t judge in that sense.”
Other jurors questioned the trustworthiness of a person who pleaded guilty to a crime, but agreed with Cox’s assertion that the state would “like to make deals with upstanding citizens, but they’re usually not the ones involved.”
Mitchell said Bedford should not be judged on the crimes of anybody else because he is on trial and is presumed innocent. He asked panelists how many of them as a teen gave a ride to a friend who had something illegal (e.g., chewing tobacco) in their pocket. In that case, Mitchell said, they weren’t guilty of underage tobacco possession.
“What happened if that act occurred,” Mitchell asked, “and you had no intent, but that act occurs anyway?”
In other instances, Mitchell and Cox asked for a showing of hands:
Cox asked how many watched “CSI” or “Law and Order.” He said he has a cartoon in his office where the lawyer asks the jury if the state did everything they’d do on “CSI,” and said he feared that situation.
“Just forget what you may have heard on any of these shows,” Cox said, “and just listen to the witnesses here.”
Mitchell asked jurors how many played sports as a child and all raised their hands. He said in sports, the expectation is to start with the score even, but in the courtroom the defense starts behind because everybody sees Bedford escorted in wearing handcuffs. He asked jurors to think of the process as building a case like they’d build a house, and jurors could decide if the case was stable at the end.
Cox asked how many panelists had been to Portales. Five raised their hands. One lived in Portales, but did not make the jury.