Jury questionnaire blocked in teen murder case
Associated Press Writer
RENO – Prospective jurors in the trial of a man accused of killing one teenage girl and sexually assaulting two other young women won’t automatically be thrown off the panel because they believe in the sanctity of human life, a judge ruled Friday.
Washoe District Judge Robert Perry also denied a request by lawyers for James Biela to give prospective jurors an extended questionnaire about religion and capital punishment.
He ruled a candidate’s opposition to the death penalty wasn’t necessarily a problem as long as the person thought they could set aside the belief and follow the law.
Biela is accused of murdering 19-year-old Brianna Denison and sexually assaulting two other young women near the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno between November 2007 and January 2008. An autopsy showed Denison, a Santa Barbara City College sophomore, had been raped and strangled.
Biela has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Judge Perry had several concerns about the seven-page questionnaire the defense team wanted to give hundreds of prospective jurors before the selection process begins May 10.
“Some of the questions are highly personal,” Perry wrote.
Among other things, the questionnaire asked if candidates regularly attended church and if their religious, spiritual or philosophical life perspective strongly influenced their feelings about the death penalty.
Perry said the benefit of distributing the questionnaire in advance to speed the selection process was outweighed by the probability of detriments to a fair trial.
“The risk that these potential jurors would be ‘infected’ with the opinions of family and friends is high,” the judge said.
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