CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Selecting mostly women and middle-class professionals, attorneys in the Lee Boyd Malvo sniper case finished choosing the jury yesterday that will decide the fate of the teen-ager from the Caribbean who is alleged to have acted as the trigger man in much of last year's cross-country killing rampage.
Two homemakers, a first-grade teacher and a Coast Guard veteran are among those picked for the panel of 12 jurors and four alternates. The prosecution and the defense will give their opening statements to the jury this morning.
In addition to the Coast Guard veteran, the panel includes three blue-collar workers and three people in sales work. Nearly all are parents.
The oldest member is a retired teacher, 70, and the youngest is a 22-year-old sales representative. After spending Monday and Tuesday selecting 28 qualified potential jurors, lawyers reduced the group to 16 yesterday, with each side eliminating six within 15 minutes.
Defense lawyers said they based their strikes on body language and minor distinctions.
Prosecutors would not comment, other than to say that one potential juror who appeared to have a grand larceny conviction but failed to admit it when questioned was among those they rejected - and will be reported to authorities.
Four of the 16 selected will be alternates. But they will not be told they are alternates until the deliberations begin.
Pleased with the makeup of the jury, defense lawyers said it is more diverse than they would have seen in Fairfax County, where Linda Franklin, 47, was gunned down Oct. 14, 2002, in a Home Depot parking lot.
She was one of 10 people killed by a sniper's bullets in the Washington area last fall, where authorities say the murderous rampage ended with the Oct. 24 arrest of Malvo and his alleged companion, John Allen Muhammad.
Malvo, 18, is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of capital murder and a weapons violation in Franklin's death. To find jurors less affected by the three-week sniper rampage, the trial was moved to Chesapeake, a city of about 200,000 in the Tidewater area of Virginia.
"Generally, diversity is a good way to achieve fairness," said Craig S. Cooley, one of Malvo's five lawyers.
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said he would not discuss the case.
Legal experts said the jury probably is as good for Malvo as he can expect. Virginia ranks second only to Texas in executions, and in recent years it has executed three men who, like Malvo, were juveniles at the time of the crimes.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the law and facts were key to his decision that the first trials of sniper suspects Malvo and Muhammad, 42, would be in Virginia, and he sent their cases to the state's two most experienced prosecutors. Closing arguments are today for Muhammad in Virginia Beach.
Steven D. Benjamin, a Richmond criminal defense lawyer, said it's significant to have parents and teachers on the jury, given that Malvo's lawyers are contending that Malvo was under a Svengali-like influence of Muhammad at the time of the shootings.
Jury diversity, he said, "is good for both sides" because it typically expands the number of viewpoints on a jury.
But, he cautioned, it would be insulting and inaccurate to presume that minorities would sympathize with Malvo, who is black and Jamaican-born.
Robert J. Cleary, the lead federal prosecutor in the trial of Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, said the jurors selected in Malvo's trial seemed generally favorable to the defense: "If I were the defense, I would want to have jurors with children, and preferably people who had teen-age children, to identify a little with Malvo."