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Supreme Court Justice Says Media Exposure May Not Taint Jurors

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RALEIGH — Wake County summons more than 1,100 people on average each week to serve jury duty. And pretrial publicity is often used as a reason for excluding potential jurors from hearing a case. But a Supreme Court Justice is saying that should not matter.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor says media exposure to a case should not be reason enough to exclude a juror.

"The fact that they have heard something or been exposed to something -- that in and of itself is not significant," said Wake County Assistant District Attorney Evelyn Hill.

"My experience has been that the media informs people but it does not necessarily influence people."

Defense Attorney Joe Cheshire disagrees. "With all due respect to the prosecutor, that's just an absurd notion," he says.

Cheshire says instead of being innocent until proven guilty, publicity makes a person guilty until lawyers prove their innocence.

"People have a feeling looking at publicity that a crime happened and that this person that's written about committed the crime," Cheshire says. "Then the defendant has to dissuade them of that."

John Phillips was one of a dozen people on the jury for one of the biggest murder trials in Wake County's recent history --the trial of Kawame Maysfor shooting and killing Raleigh Police Detective Paul Hale in the line of duty.

"I keep such a busy schedule. I hardly read or watch very much news, so I had no idea going into it," Phillips says.

Phillips thinks he was chosen for this case primarily for his lack of knowledge.

"It's very difficult not to develop an opinion when you hear of people talking about it," Phillips says. "It's probably overall not good to hear about it [a case]."

Sometimes judges keep jurors away from the media by sequestering them. However, Wake County has not had a sequestered jury in almost 24 years.

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Ericka Lewis, Reporter
Keith Baker, Photographer
Julie Moos, Web Editor

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