Richly diverse jury seated in Kilpatrick corruption case

DETROIT (WXYZ) - They were questioned for eight days about everything from their views on racial slurs to which radio and TV programs they prefer.

But now a richly diverse jury has been sworn in to hear the evidence in the long-awaited Kilpatrick Corruption Case.

Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, former city contractor Bobby Ferguson, and ex-Water department director Victor Mercado are all charged with racketeering and conspiracy, accused of running a criminal enterprise out of city hall.

There are 12 jurors, plus 6 alternates.  Of the 12, nine are women, and three are men.  Five of them are African American, and one young woman is Hispanic.

For the alternates – three are women, and three are men.  Half of the alternates are African American.

The entire group features a variety of ages, ranging from retirees to a former marine to young professionals.

"There's certainly a cross section, I can't deny that.  We all have eyeballs and we can all see what's up there," said Ferguson defense attorney Mike Rataj.

"What I hope they do is they listen to the evidence, they listen to the cross examination and they hold the government to their burden. That's what we hope they do.  It doesn't get more complicated than that," said Rataj.

While the judge, the defense, and prosecutors seemed happy with the diversity – race still caused quite a stir today.  For all six rounds of peremptory challenges, the defense did something called a Batson challenge very time the Assistant U. S. Attorneys cut a minority juror.  Legally, jurors cannot be cut solely based on race.  At times the defense lawyers were visibly upset with the governments' choices.

"I guess the bottom line is, they couldn't get rid of all the people of color off the jury, although they tried," said Rataj.

Judge Nancy Edmunds denied all of those Batson challenges.

Federal prosecutors kept saying they were cutting jurors loose based on their racial attitudes – not the color of their skin.

The new jury won't hear opening statements until Friday.  On Thursday, thee court still has to address this change of venue request from the defense.

The power of the sticky note

For this very serious business of using peremptory challenges to shape the final make-up of the jury that will decide the biggest corruption case in Detroit history – the sticky note played a starring role today.

We watched as the various lawyers at times passed their juror strike selections forward to the judge on a yellow sticky note.

We also learned that the defense teams had an elaborate system in their war room of moving sticky notes around the board as various jurors got cut and moved forward into the box – that way they could keep track of who was where, and who the government might try to cut as well.

Despite some division lately between Mercado and the other defendants, lawyers say today they were more of a team.

"I think we were all in lockstep, I think we all worked well together. And we're happy about that," said Rataj.

Rataj says the four defense teams collaborated to use the best strategy for keeping as many jurors that they wanted as they could – even though the prosecution was cutting many of their ideal jurors.

After each round of challenges – all of the lawyers would meet away from the courtroom and come back with the next round of people to be cut from the jury pool. 

Rataj says it's a bit like a fantasy football draft: you need a plan B when the other side cuts the juror you wanted for your client.

"Do we think we have a perfect jury – there's no such thing.  But do we think we have a decent jury I would say, it's as good as it's going to get," said Rataj.

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