WORCESTER — One prospective juror, sitting feet away from the black defendant, said he was “prejudiced against all minorities.” One woman burst into tears when she learned one of the victims was a toddler. A 45-year-old truck driver said he had followed the case closely in the news and knew a key prosecution witness had changed his story. It would be too hard to believe that witness, he said.
In an effort to find an impartial jury in the retrial of Dwayne Moore, accused of killing four people in Mattapan in 2010, a Suffolk judge earlier this month ruled that the panel would be selected in Worcester. The media glare had been too intense to trust that an untainted jury pool could be found in Boston.
But finding impartial jurors one hour away is shaping up to be no easy feat, either, the defense and prosecutors learned during jury selection Tuesday.
“That’s a waste of my taxpayer’s dollars in there,” the truck driver, Michael Simoncini said after he was excused, pointing to Courtroom 17 on the third floor of the spacious county courthouse, where more than 30 people were questioned by Judge Jeffrey Locke to determine whether they could be suitable jurors.
By the end of the day, only four men and two women were deemed qualified. They could still be dismissed this week if the prosecution or the defense objects to them.
Many were rejected because they said serving on a trial that could last at least a month would hurt them too much economically or interfere with school or medical appointments.
Janice Brusa, a 58-year-old Southbridge nanny to two children, was dismissed because Locke worried her employers might replace her permanently if she was gone too long.
“Phew, now I can have a cigarette,” Brusa said after she left the courtroom.
The jury that is finally selected will have to travel from Worcester on a Crystal Transport bus to Boston every morning during rush-hour traffic, and will be bused back in the afternoon. Transporting the jurors is expected to cost the state $850 a day and will likely shorten trial days to 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The shortened days, in turn, could increase the length of the trial. The first trial, which ended in a hung jury for Moore and an acquittal for his co-defendant, Edward Washington, lasted more than a month.
A significant number of those who came before Locke were let go because they admitted to some sort of bias. A surprising number of the prospective jurors, 14 by defense attorney John Amabile’s count, said they had read or seen something in the news about the case.
Over Amabile’s objection, Locke kept one of them as a potential juror, even after he said that the coverage initially led him to assume Moore was guilty.
Locke said he believed the man when he said he could overcome his initial impressions and look strictly at the evidence.
“He said he would put that aside, so I’m satisfied,” Locke said.
Amabile said the large number of people familiar with the case showed jury selection should be moved even further west and away from the Boston media market. Locke declined, stating that only a small number of potential jurors admitted their judgment would be tainted by media coverage.
The jury pool of about 90 people was almost entirely white, a stark contrast to Suffolk juries, which tend to be racially diverse.
Two jurors said Moore’s race, Moore is black, would affect their ability to be fair to him. One of them, a young man, seemed close to tears as he tried to explain that he has racist relatives.
“I try not to be,” he said, just before Locke excused him.
Even the prospective jurors with no knowledge of the case said the simple facts Locke told them about the violent nature of the killings and the age of the youngest victim would be too disturbing to overcome.
Moore is charged with the killings of Simba Martin, 21; his friend, Levaughn Washum-Garrison; and Martin’s girlfriend, Eyanna Flonory, who was found dead, cradling her 2-year-old son, Amanihotep Smith.
Locke asked Heather Fuller, 41, if she would be able to put aside her emotions about the killing of the boy.
“That certainly weighs heavily,” said Fuller, the mother of a five-year-old girl.
“It weighs heavily on all of us,” Locke said gently. “Does it weigh heavily on you because you have a young child?”
Tears streaming down her face, Fuller was too upset to answer.
Locke excused her.
The remaining potential jurors will be questioned Wednesday.