DA: Jury may be seated today in Reno murder trial
Associated Press Writer
RENO – Despite an avalanche of pretrial publicity, a Nevada prosecutor says he’s optimistic a jury can be seated as early as today to try the man accused of killing a college coed and assaulting two other women near the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.
Washoe County Deputy District Attorney Elliott Sattler said he has his “fingers crossed” that will happen, even though each of the first 75 potential jurors called to court Monday indicated they already knew something about the January 2008 kidnapping and killing of 19-year-old Brianna Denison.
“I know that is optimistic,” Sattler said.
Judge Robert Perry dismissed more than two dozen potential jurors before adjourning for the day, many because of their opposition to the death penalty.
But most of the rest insisted they can give James Biela a fair trial, including some who distributed the blue ribbons used to bring attention to the search for Denison before her body was found nearly a month after she was abducted.
Biela, a 29-year-old Sparks pipe fitter, is accused of strangling Denison and assaulting two others during a string of attacks that police claim was the work of a serial rapist. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The judge agreed “we are making progress” after a slow start Monday morning on the selection process. Lawyers on both sides initially indicated the process would take several days because of media coverage of the case, which gripped the city for nearly a year before Biela’s arrest that November.
“I recognize there has been a lot of publicity about this case,” Perry said. “Is there anybody who doesn’t think they have heard or seen a single thing about Brianna Denison, about this case?”
No one raised a hand.
The first juror dismissed was a young female student at UNR. She felt she could not be impartial due to her gender and age and “some of the causes” she’s been involved with.
Another was dismissed partly because his son went to school with Denison at Reno High School. A third said her brother is jailed with Biela, who appeared in court Monday in a blue blazer and tie instead of the orange jail jumpsuit and shackles he’d worn at past appearances.
One panel member said she tied one of the blue ribbons to a tree on behalf of Denison’s family. Another put one on her car, and a third said she took a blue candle to a vigil at the field where Denison’s body was found on Feb. 15, 2008. But each said it would not affect their role as jurors.
Perry said knowledge of the case wasn’t automatic grounds for dismissal.
The media “presents the facts as they know and understand them to be,” the judge explained.
“But the press is not tested by cross-examination,” he said. “This case will be determined based on the evidence presented in this courtroom, not on the basis of anything else.”