Prosecutors and defense attorneys in Michael Rosfeld’s homicide trial could seek out jurors each side would otherwise avoid, legal experts following the case told the Tribune-Review.
Defense attorneys, who typically look for jurors suspicious of police, might want to pack the jury with people sympathetic to law enforcement.
While prosecutors, who typically rely on officers as key witnesses during cases, could look for jurors wary of police.
“The prosecution wants to find those people that say, ‘Oh yeah, I know the cops are doing a terrible job out there,’” said Pittsburgh-based defense attorney Tom N. Farrell of Farrell and Associates.
Farrell said for Rosfeld’s attorneys, “The more law-abiding people they have on the jury, the stronger the defense gets.”
Rosfeld, a former East Pittsburgh police officer, faces one count of homicide for shooting and killing 17-year-old Antwon Rose II as the teen ran from a traffic stop June 19, 2018.
Jury selection in the trial will begin Tuesday at the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg. The judge in the case granted a motion from Rosfeld’s attorney for a jury from another county after hearing arguments that the jury pool in Allegheny County had been tainted.
Moving the jury selection process about 200 miles from the Allegheny County Courthouse to Dauphin County isn’t surprising, given the amount of public interest in the case, said Farrell, a longtime defense attorney who is currently defending a capital homicide case in Washington County.
“The purpose of moving it to Harrisburg is so you don’t have people with a formed opinion saying ‘I have an agenda,’” Farrell said. “They want somebody that’s going to be able to listen to the evidence in court.”
Mark Calzaretta, a veteran civil and criminal jury consultant, used a football analogy.
“You wouldn’t want a Bengals fan being a referee in a Steelers game. I don’t think anybody would want a Bengals fan, but they wouldn’t mind someone from the Saints. You’re still all fans of football, but not so close to it,” said Calzaretta, Vice President of Litigation Consulting for Philadelphia-based Magna Legal Services.
Calzaretta said the defense and prosecution could be looking for jurors they might otherwise pass on. Prosecutors want someone who doesn’t trust police. The defense wants people who do.
“Under normal circumstances, the prosecutors’ ideal juror is flipped, and that’s sort of like what the defense wants,” Calzaretta said.
Jurors are selected when they aren’t objectionable to either the prosecution or defense or otherwise disqualified by the court, said Douglas Sughrue, a Pittsburgh defense attorney.
Sughrue most famously was the court-appointed attorney for Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, an Erie serial killer infamous for being the mastermind behind what’s commonly called the “pizza bomber case” that made national headlines and inspired a Netflix documentary.
“You’re not really picked for a jury, you’re just not stricken,” Sughrue said.
The Dauphin County residents summoned for jury duty are randomly selected from PennDOT records, and they’ve either been given a questionnaire in advance or will fill one out Tuesday.
Rosfeld’s attorney, Patrick Thomassey, and the lead prosecutor on the case, Chief Trial Deputy Daniel Fitzsimmons from the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, have submitted a series of questions they they want potential jurors to answer during jury selection.
Many of the questions ask for the jurors’ feeling toward police.
The answers to those questions will play a key role in how the attorneys in the case whittle down the jury pool, Farrell said.
Other things attorneys will look for include insight into prospective jurors’ backgrounds, Calzaretta said, and trying to find out if a person lost a child to tragedy or even illness who may have been the same age as Antwon Rose was when they died.
“If I’m on the defense side, I want to know that,” Calzaretta said.
Prosecutors will want to find out if people have friends or relatives who are police. Those people might be biased toward Rosfeld simply because he’s a cop, Calzaretta said.
The defense and prosecution can each dismiss seven potential jurors. Called peremptory challenges, they can simply ask that a prospective juror be removed without giving a reason.
The judge dismisses the rest. The judge can strike a juror for hardship — meaning that serving would be too difficult for them because of their job, family, health or other obligations. Jurors can also be dismissed for cause, meaning there’s something in their background that makes them biased and unable to serve on the jury.
The 12 members of the jury plus the alternates selected will be bused back to Pittsburgh for opening statements of the trial, which is scheduled to start March 19.
This piece originally appeared in Trib Total Media on March 11, 2019.