The Ottumwa Courier

February 20, 2013

Jury selection continues in murder trial

Jury expected to be seated today

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Jury selection in a Wapello County murder trial continues, though the judge expects the 12 jurors to be seated today.

Seth Techel is accused of murdering his pregnant wife, Lisa, at their Agency home in May 2012. Techel, in dress shirt and tie, sat quietly with his defense attorneys during jury selection Tuesday.

The day started with around 80 prospective jurors in the courtroom.

The court computer randomly chose 37 to be seated. That may sound like a strange number, said Judge Wilson, but attorneys were expected to ask questions in order to eliminate a total of 20 candidates.

Prosecutor Scott Brown with the Iowa Attorney General’s office asked most of the questions in the courtroom Tuesday.

But there was also a period in the afternoon where defense attorneys Robert Box and Steve Gardner joined  the prosecutors in the judge’s office. There they questioned jurors individually. Several were excused. Others who were not part of the 37 were then brought in to boost the number back to 37 potential jurors.

With the candidates released Tuesday morning due to things like medical concerns, family emergencies or non-refundable travel plans, about half the original number of jurors remained by the end of the day.

“Citizen involvement is critical in ... whether our system works,” Wilson told the jury panel.  

Brown compared serving on a jury to military service, though as opposed to a year-long deployment by soldiers, the jurors in this case will serve two, perhaps three weeks.

Wilson expects to finish jury selection today. The jury will include 12 jurors and three alternates. Charges against Techel are murder in the first degree and non-consensual termination of a pregnancy.

Brown summed up the role of the jury: “What we want you to do is listen to the evidence and decide. That’s it.”

His questions to the candidates, he said, are intended to produce 12 impartial jurors who would listen to the evidence presented by both sides.

Some of the questions were basic: Tell me about yourself. What do you like to do outside of work? Candidates usually discussed their job, marital status, children, hobbies.

But he also asked if jurors knew Lisa Techel or her family, the Caldwells. Did anyone know the Techel family?

A few candidates acknowledged their connection to one or the other family would make it very difficult for them to make a decision that would cause that family pain.

Brown also wanted to know if they knew anything at all about the case. Nearly all of the juror pool had heard about the case, either by newspaper, Internet or television.

The prosecutor suggested that the most tedious part of the selection process would be checking for connections to the names of more than 60 prospective witnesses.

Many of the initial names were of law enforcement personnel. Some jurors know the sheriff of Wapello County, Mark Miller, or some of his deputies. Brown asked if interactions with those people were positive or negative — and if the juror had discussed the case with that potential witness.

Some of the other questions asked in jury selection Tuesday:  Have you had any dealings with the Iowa Attorney General’s office? Have you served on a jury before? Did you reach a verdict? When you were on the jury, were there questions you wished the lawyers would ask? When they didn’t ask those questions, did it affect how you thought about the case? Do you know me, Scott Brown, or my colleague, Andrew Prosser? Have you ever been a client of the defense, attorneys Robert Box or Steve Gardner?



Instructions to jury pool members

Between the initial video played for the jury pool and a talk from the judge, some of the general instructions to the jury are:

Don’t discuss the case with your friends, family or even fellow jurors.

Expect disagreement during deliberation, jury pool members were told. It’s a natural part of the process. You might change your opinion during deliberations. And you don’t need to agree with others on the jury.  Other jurors may interpret the evidence differently than you. In the end, you must decide based on your own opinion.

Don’t follow news reports about this case.

Rely on evidence heard in court — and only that evidence. Don’t investigate on the Internet, talk to witnesses on your own or visit the scenes described in the testimony. Don’t look up laws. You are qualified to serve as a juror because you are a citizen of this state and country.