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June 7, 2007 - The Inquirer and Mirror

Venue change sought by the Defense Attorney

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 to leave. 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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