PORT ALLEN, La. – Potential jurors were questioned about publicity surrounding a string of murders in Louisiana as the first of four trials facing Derrick Todd Lee (search), who is suspected of killing seven young women, got under way.
A crowd of more than 260 people, too large for the courthouse, gathered in makeshift courtrooms at a tourism center to be vetted by lawyers. Monday's proceedings yielded more dismissals than potential panelists. Jury selection resumed Tuesday morning.
Lee faces a second-degree murder charge in the beating and stabbing death of Geralyn DeSoto (search), 21, who was found with her neck slashed in her Addis home in January 2002, on the day she registered for graduate school at Louisiana State University.
If convicted, he would face a mandatory life prison sentence.
Lawyers and state District Judge Robin Free questioned jury candidates in two groups of 14. Only six people remained of those first two groups as jury selection moved into its second day Tuesday; lawyers from either side still could ask to have them tossed out as proceedings continue.
Lee, 35, is suspected killing seven women. He has been charged in two other murders — death penalty cases in nearby Baton Rouge and Lafayette — and an attempt to rape and murder another woman. He was arrested in May 2003 after a nearly yearlong search and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Free opened jury selection with a gag order, barring all parties from speaking about the case.
During questioning, one man was dismissed after he said he thought Lee was guilty because DNA (search) evidence was ironclad. "I don't think there's a whole lot of chance for error," the man said.
One potential juror never even made it past the roll call because he was a detective in the case.
Many of the jurors said they hadn't heard a lot about the case, despite widespread media coverage. A woman who made it through Monday's round said she had been alarmed by the series of killings until news broke of Lee's arrest, when she said she was "relieved."
"Once he was arrested, I stopped paying attention to it," she said.