|June 7, 2007 - The Inquirer and Mirror
Venue change sought by the Defense
by Jason Graziadei I&M Staff Writer
Jury Pool Narrowed Down to 48 in murder trial
The grind of jury selection consumed the first three days of the
Thomas Toolan murder trial in Nantucket Superior Court this week,
as defense attorney Kevin Reddington squared off with prosecutor
Brian Glenny over a motion to move the proceedings off-island.
Judge Richard Connon announced at the end of Wednesday's session that the impanelment
of the jury will begin this morning at 9:30 a.m. Connon has reserved his right
to rule on Reddington's motion to move the trial off Nantucket - until after
that process concludes.
Should Connon deny the change of venue motion, Reddington has vowed to appeal
the ruling to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which could decide
the issue in a matter of hours, or days.
The original field of 175 potential jurors was trimmed down to about 48 by
Wednesday afternoon. Both Reddington and Glenny can dismiss up to 16 jurors
each without cause, and challenge the seating of any other prospective juror
during today's impanelment.
Toolan, accused of killing his ex-girlfriend Elizabeth "Beth" Lochtefeld
in her Hawthorne Lane Cottage in October 2004, has been present in the courtroom
each day dressed in a suit with slicked-back hair, but so far has not spoken
to anyone except Reddington. His parents, Thomas and Dolores, have also attended
the first three days of jury selection.
Lochtefeld's family, including her parents, John and Judy, who own an art studio
on Fair Street, as well as her three brothers and sister, have also made several
appearances in the courthouse to watch the jury-selection proceedings.
Connon has said repeatedly during the first three days of .jury selection that
he believes the trial will last approximately two and a half weeks once the
jury is impaneled.
On Monday, with the courtroom filled with more than 70 prospective jurors,
the hearing on Reddington's motion for a change of venue was held in the office
of the Register of Probate. Toolan's defense team and parents, as well as prosecutors,
members of the Lochtefeld family and the press crowded into the small office
where Reddington argued that his client could not receive a fair trial on Nantucket
due to the extensive pretrial publicity about the case.
"There was a nationwide blitz in this case and it hasn't let up," Reddington
said. "It's readily apparent the publicity is not going to abate. It's reached
a crescendo. How could any juror be able to be truly objective in this case?
How can we expect these people to be fair and impartial? We are flirting with
this trial being a hollow formality."
Citing Nantucket's small year-round population, Reddington called the island
a "fishbowl," and argued that potential jurors would likely have
ties to the Lochtefeld family or witnesses in the case and should not serve.
"It's a very small area for a jury pool," Reddington said. "There
is no way we can impanel a fair and impartial jury. Pull the plug on this case
on this island so it won't be a hollow formality."
Glenny, the first assistant district attorney for the Cape and Islands, asked
Connon to defer judgment on the motion for a change of venue until after the
jury had been impaneled and called Reddington's argument an "insult" to
islanders."That's an insult to every single resident of this island," Glenny
said. There's no evidence of actual influence on the jury pool. There's nothing
to tell us how much exposure there's been."
During each of the first three days of jury selection, Connon told the prospective
jurors about the allegations against Toolan, described the indictment process,
and read a lengthy witness list that included law enforcement officials from
Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, as well as a number of Nantucket
residents who may be asked to testify during the trial. They include Lochtefeld's
neighbors, island police officers and airport employees, among others.
Connon also asked the jurors to raise their hands if they felt they could not
be fair and impartial, if they did not believe the burden of proof was on the
prosecutors, if they knew someone involved in the case, if they had read any
stories about the murder, if they believed a police officer's testimony to
be more trustworthy than others, or if they believe they should not have to
serve on the jury for some other reason. On each day of jury selection, nearly
all of those seated raised their hands regarding one of those questions.
Judge Connon, Glenny, along with Reddington and his jury consultant, Marshall
Hennington, interviewed each person who believed they had an issue with serving
on the jury during sidebar conferences that were inaudible to the rest of the
courtroom. While there were some who were asked to stay for further questioning,
most of those who were interviewed were excused from jury duty and permitted
Jurors were excused for a variety of issues, some for personal reasons, others
because they claimed to have formed an opinion about Toolan's guilt or innocence,
and some because they had connections to the Lochtefeld family or other witnesses
in the case.
"Their responses seem to indicate the trouble in overcoming all the information
they had," Connon said after Monday's session.
On day one, all but 24 of 77 prospective jurors remained part of the jury pool.
On day two, only 19 of 65 jurors were asked to return for subsequent interviews
with Connon, the defense team and prosecutors. And on Wednesday, 12 potential
jurors from a field of 33 remained after the initial round of questioning.
Of the 55 prospective jurors who were asked to return, six or seven were dismissed
after another round of questioning that took place behind closed doors in the
judge's lobby with Connon, the defense team and prosecutors.
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