Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jury sequester motion denied for Marsalis trial

Hurlbutt reserves right to sequester jury after itís impaneled

Express Staff Writer

A 5th District Court judge has denied a defense motion to sequester the jury for the upcoming rape trial against Jeffrey J. Marsalis in Boise.

Senior Judge Daniel Hurlbutt Jr., however, reserved the right to order the jury sequestered once it has been impaneled.

"I would like to see through the jury process how folks respond," Hurlbutt said at a pretrial court hearing Tuesday in Hailey.

Sequestering the jury would require that jurors be kept in hotel rooms under the surveillance of court bailiffs and not be allowed access to computers, televisions, newspapers or cell phones.

The Marsalis trial is scheduled to start Monday, April 20, and is expected to last a week.

Marsalis, 35, is charged in Blaine County with raping a then-21-year-old coworker at his Sun Valley condominium on Oct. 9, 2005. A grand jury indictment alleges the woman was incapacitated at the time, either by alcohol or a "date rape drug."

Marsalis, who remains incarcerated in the Blaine Count jail, was extradited to Idaho last August from Pennsylvania, where he is serving a 21-year prison sentence for convictions in Philadelphia in 2007 of two counts of sexual assault and one count of unlawful restraint.

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas has agreed with defense attorney Douglas Nelson that information on Marsalis' Pennsylvania convictions will not be introduced as evidence during the trial. Nelson filed his motion to sequester the panel to prevent jurors from the temptation to seek information on Marsalis outside of the trial.

"I've never thought it necessary to sequester a jury," Nelson said. "This is rather novel for me."

Nelson described the case against Marsalis as "high profile," "highly publicized" and "nationally publicized."

Both ABC News' "20/20" and CBS News' "48 Hours" have stated intentions to cover the trial for later programs.

"He's got a lot of press," Nelson said. "There are a number of cases recently, big cases, where jurors have been caught on their smart phones or computers looking up information independently of the case. It's not just a theoretical problem—it happened in the first trial in Pennsylvania."

Nelson said sequestering the jury would help guarantee "Jeff's right to a fair trial."

Thomas disagreed, and said admonishments from the judge about seeking outside information on the case should be adequate.

"The state's position is that we don't feel that sequestration is necessary," Thomas said. "That's an unnecessary burden for the jurors."

Terry Smith:

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