Jury screening concludes in Bailey murder trial; final jury to be selected March 21
By Thomas Peele, The Chauncey Bailey Project
OAKLAND — The screening of prospective jurors in the Chauncey Bailey murder case ended late Wednesday — five days sooner than expected — with Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon announcing he has qualified enough people for the jury pool.
“That’s it for the interviews,” Reardon said at the end of the seventh day of juror questioning. “I am done.”
He had scheduled 12, daylong sessions to screen potential jurors.
Some 800 people received summons for the case in a process that began last month. The jury pool was whittled down to 109 through hardship dismissals and dismissals for cause, such as people who know potential witnesses, possess detailed knowledge of the case, or expressed bias against the criminal justice system or against 25-year-old defendants Yusuf Bey IV and Antoine Mackey.
The final jury — 12 jurors and five alternates — are scheduled to be picked on March 21. Reardon has said opening statements in the trial will begin immediately following the seating of the jury.
Bey IV, leader of the defunct Your Black Muslim Bakery, and Mackey, a bakery member, are facing murder charges in connection with the Aug. 2, 2007, shooting of Bailey, as well as the unrelated shooting deaths of two other men.
Bey IV is charged with ordering Bailey, editor of the Oakland Post, killed because he was working on a story about the bakery’s bankruptcy filing and inner strife. He is also charged with ordering two other men, Odell Roberson and Michael Willis, killed in July 2007.
Mackey is charged with killing Willis with an assault rifle and helping confessed gunman Devaughndre Broussard kill Bailey and Roberson. Broussard, 23, pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and is to testify against Bey IV and Mackey in exchange for a 25-year sentence.
Reardon has also scheduled a Tuesday hearing on a change of venue motion that has been pending since late summer, when he declined to immediately rule on claims of Bey IV and Mackey that they can’t get a fair trial in Alameda County because of extensive publicity.
Prosecutor Melissa Krum declined to comment on the proceedings Wednesday, as did Mackey’s lawyer, Gary Sirbu.
Bey IV’s lawyer, Gene Peretti, said he would have to review the 17-page questionnaires jurors completed along with transcripts of the jury hearings before saying if concerns about fairness remain.
“Right now, I am sort of overwhelmed by the data,” he said. “I have to get a sense of where we are.”
During the seven days of screening, Reardon conducted what he called “a group discussion” on legal procedure with panels of about 20 people each day. He has repeatedly asked them if they could “follow my rules whether you like it or not.”
People mostly said they could, although some expressed concerns over their ability to be objective, or said they had a deep objections to guns, or thought criminals often didn’t receive enough punishment.
One women cried as she explained how her grandfather died in a shooting when she was a girl in the Midwest and one of the people responsible, a juvenile, was not jailed.
“Since then I have been against all types of guns,” the woman said as a bailiff handed her tissues during a session last week. “The only people who should have them are the police and the military.”
She was excused from the jury pool.
Eleanor Swift, professor at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, said it seems unusual for a judge to go through jury screening, a process called voir dire, with a motion for venue change undecided.
Claims of excessive publicity tainting a jury pool are generally decided after a “ballpark determination is made on the effects on the jury pool,” Swift said.
That enough people have been qualified after just seven days of screening could suggest that excessive publicity claims were overblown and that a jury of untainted people can be seated, Swift added.
That Reardon took control of the questioning, giving each lawyer about only about 20 minutes to question jurors each day, “shows he is setting the groundwork and establishing (himself) as the source of power in the room.”
Generally, she said, voir dire proceedings are dominated by the lawyers.
Another legal expert said Reardon should have moved the trial after the change of venue motion was heard.
“This case has been radioactive in Alameda County,” said Peter Keane, a professor at Hastings College of the Law and a former chief deputy public defender in San Francisco. “He should have sent it to some other county.”
Keane said it’s up to the judge to keep the case fair as the lawyers jockey for any advantage with the jury.
“Neither side is looking for a fair juror,” Keane said. “The prosecutor is looking for someone who is pro-authoritarian. The defense is looking for people who are bomb throwers, people cynical about power. If the defense gets someone who is crazy, that’s great.”
Keane said that while race might appear to be a factor in the case, he believes many African Americans are extremely skeptical of the Black Muslim movement. “They certainly don’t like the entire secondary role to which it commits women.”
Neither Sirbu nor Peretti asked to remove a man from West Oakland who told Reardon that he had extensive knowledge of news coverage of Bailey’s killing.
Krum, the prosecutor, told the defense attorneys that their decision didn’t reconcile with their arguments that the trial had to be moved.
Reach investigative reporter Thomas Peele at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/thomas_peele.