News coverage likely to challenge jury selection in Phoenix trial

Jury selection began Wednesday in the retrial of Travers and Tremayne Johnson, brothers accused of setting fire to a pit bull, and it was expected to be a challenge given media coverage of the case.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Emanuel Brown called a pool of about 80 potential jurors, about 40 more than usual, because he expects many to be disqualified for having previous knowledge of or opinions on the case. A hung jury caused a mistrial in 2011, covered extensively in newspapers and on local television.

Selection of a 12-member jury and three alternates was expected to last into Wednesday evening, with opening statements from attorneys Thursday.

The trial has garnered attention from animal-rights advocates who were active observers of the brothers' first trial. A handful were present at pretrial motions Monday and are expected to attend the trial.

Prosecutors also were concerned that the jury pool could be further limited by a question for potential jurors: whether they own or have owned a pet. But Brown denied their request to have the question changed or removed from the list. Owning a pet would not necessarily disqualify a potential juror.

The case is expected to focus significantly on a 35-minute police surveillance video showing portions of the May 27, 2009, attack on the dog near Presbury and North Gilmor streets in Sandtown-Winchester. Rescue workers named the young female pit bull Phoenix. The dog was severely injured in the burning and euthanized three days later.

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