Crime, Fire + Courts

Jury selection continues in Topete trial

By April 8, 2011

WOODLAND — Jury selection in the Marco Topete murder trial continued this week in Yolo Superior Court with individual questioning of potential jurors in the death-penalty case.

Attorneys are seeking 85 people who are qualified to hear the case and, as of Thursday afternoon, had approved just over 80. From those, they will select 12 jurors and six alternates.

Opening statements are scheduled to begin the morning of Tuesday, April 19. The trial is expected to last several months.

Topete, 38, is accused of fatally shooting Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputy Jose “Tony” Diaz following a high-speed pursuit in Dunnigan on June 15, 2008.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder with special circumstances alleging murder of a peace officer, murder to avoid arrest, lying in wait and murder by an active gang participant.

For the past several weeks, Yolo County prosecutors and Topete’s defense attorneys have individually questioned potential jurors based on answers they provided in a 50-page questionnaire last month.

Much of the questioning has revolved around Topete’s possible punishment in the case if he’s convicted — the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole — and whether those who will decide Topete’s fate harbor any doubts about either option.

One potential juror became visibly upset Thursday while describing her views on the death penalty to District Attorney Jeff Reisig, one of the prosecutors in the case.

“Hearing about something like this on television, that’s one thing,” she said. “Being in the courtroom, it’s a little stressful. One person’s dead, one person’s on trial for his life. So it’s a very serious matter.”

Another woman described herself as “moderately opposed” to the death penalty, having been influenced by the movie “Dead Man Walking” and accounts of how capital punishment is imposed across the country.

She said she suspects minorities are disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, and at first indicated that it would affect how she would weigh the evidence as a juror in the Topete case. Topete is Latino.

“Any informed citizen might have that doubt,” she said. But when defense attorney Hayes Gable III informed her she could not consider evidence not presented during the trial, she said she believed she could be “fair and objective.”

Both women were allowed to continue in the selection process.

Jury selection in the Topete case began in early March with an initial pool of roughly 850 potential jurors. Most have been excused due to hardship or because they have indicated they cannot reach a fair verdict in the case.

Attorneys hoped to identify the remainder of the qualified panel today, and will be making their peremptory challenges — potential jurors who can be excused for no specific reason — on Monday, April 18.

— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or (530) 747-8048.

Lauren Keene

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