Picking the Kilpatrick corruption trial jurors: Legal experts say "go with your gut"

(WXYZ) - If you were picking a jury for the federal corruption case against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who would you choose?

That's the question now facing attorneys for Kilpatrick, his co-defendants and federal prosecutors.

Four hundred potential jurors from nine counties will be downtown in federal court on Wednesday to fill out a very detailed questionnaire.

After the judge talks with the jurors -- we'll find out exactly what questions they were asked. But in the end, some say picking a jury is a lot like going on a date, you go with your gut.

Kwame Kilpatrick recently told reporters he does not believe he'll be going back to prison. Of course his attorneys plan to do everything they can to make sure that's the case, as the federal racketeering trial gets underway.

And picking the jurors who will decide the former mayor's fate is a major factor.

So what will the attorneys representing Kilaptrick and his co-defendants be looking for?

"For the defense, they want someone who is not going to accept everything the government says as truthful unless shown otherwise, someone who is open to persuasion," said Peter Henning, a former federal prosecutor and Wayne State University law professor. 

"For the government, they want someone who is law abiding, good citizens, who will especially in a corruption case and will be taken a back and affronted by misuse of authority," said Henning.

Jury consultant Dr. Stephen Sherbel agrees. "Certainly it will be better for the prosecution to have someone who is a rule follower, very stable, someone who has never been in trouble. Someone who trusts authority," said Sherbel.

Sherbel has advised lawyers on hundreds of cases all over the county.  In a case where all the defendants are minorities, he says race will play a factor, but jurors must not be selected on that alone.

"It is a very bad idea to base one's jury selection on skin color. You need to look at the experiences and the attitudes of a juror, irrespective of their skin color," said Sherbel.

But Sherbel also says one of the challenges Kilpatrick will face in picking a jury is all of the negative publicity over the years that surrounded his administration.

"First and foremost, very few people will come into this case without some impression of Kwame Kilpatrick. Anyone who has been even casually aware of the news for the last several years will know the former mayor has been in jail," said Sherbel.

Henning says it is not just a juror's impression of Kilpatrick that counts.

"The key is their knowledge of the case, not just of the defendants, because everyone has heard of the former mayor, this case is so high profile, it's what's their depth of knowledge and have they formed any opinions about the case," said Henning.

But in the end, Henning says for both the defense and the prosecution, picking a jury comes down this:  "You do it by feel. It is very much of a gut reaction to how this person looks, how do they respond to questions… In a sense, it's like dating, it's what's that first impression going to be like."

The good impression idea is a two-way street – the attorneys also have to leave a good impression on the jurors.

7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo will be there Wednesday as the jury selection process gets underway.  Stay with 7 Action News as we bring you every step of this historic trial.

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