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August 18, 2004
Defense lawyers for Eric Robert Rudolph say they don’t want their client tried before a totally anonymous jury on charges he bombed a Southside abortion clinic.
In a Friday court filing, Rudolph’s lawyers wrote that they support protecting the privacy interest of the jurors, but oppose a totally anonymous jury.
The filing said the judge presiding over Rudolph’s case raised the question during Rudolph’s June change of venue hearing of using an anonymous jury and allowing the jurors to come and go daily.
U.S. District Judge C. Lynwood Smith Jr., who set May 24 as the estimated date for opening statements for Rudolph’s trial, had indicated he may summon at least 500 people to go through a lengthy selection process, which includes completing a jury questionnaire. Jury selection is to begin March 23.
An anonymous jury exists when the identifying information about the jurors, such as their names, ages and occupations is sealed and they are often referred to by number.
In Rudolph’s case, his lawyers argued in the court filing that an anonymous jury would violate his rights, including to be presumed innocent and to a fair and impartial public trial.
The lawyers said Rudolph has a right to a jury of known individuals and is entitled to receive a verdict, not from anonymous decision makers, but from people he can name as responsible for their actions.
“This right needs to be even more scrupulously honored in the context of this case, where a defendant’s life hangs in the balance,” the filing said.
Rudolph could face the death penalty if he is convicted in the January 1998 bombing that killed an off-duty Birmingham police officer and critically injured a nurse. Rudolph has pleaded not guilty.
His lawyers argued that circumstances surrounding his case do not rise to the level warranting an anonymous jury.
For example, the filing said the government makes no allegations of any past or future attempt by Rudolph to obstruct the judicial process or to intimidate false testimony from witnesses.
“In short, nothing about this case suggests that the jury genuinely needs protection,” the filing said.
Efforts to reach prosecutors were unsuccessful. A review of court records does not indicate prosecutors have asked for an anonymous jury, but many records in the case are sealed.
Rudolph’s lawyers outline recommendations for juror privacy if additional measures are needed in the high-profile case. The filing suggests that the media and public should not be present when prospective jurors complete the juror questionnaire, and that press should not be allowed to interview and photograph prospective jurors. The filing also suggests that the identity of jurors and their questionnaires be kept secret from the media and general public but disclosed to the parties in the case.
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