Potential jurors given questionnaires, sent home for day
07:12 PM CDT on Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Bigad Shaban / Eyewitness News
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A pool of about 100 potential jurors is expected back in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia Wednesday for their second round of questioning in the case against former Congressman William Jefferson.
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The potential jurors spent part of the day Tuesday filling out questionnaires, asking what they do and do not know about the high-profile case. While the actual questions were not made public, it is known that Judge T.S. Ellis did tell the pool of jurors that the case “involved a large sum of money found in a freezer.” Federal agents found $90,000 in cash in a freezer at Jefferson's Washington home in 2005 -- a detail that frequently captured headlines.
Ellis and the lawyers on both sides had previously agreed that the jury pool should be reminded about the freezer money at the outset to jog their memory about whether they had been exposed to publicity about the case and whether that publicity might lead them to prejudge Jefferson's guilt.
Jefferson entered the courthouse just before 9 a.m. Tuesday, with family members at his side. Potential jurors are expected to face individual questions Wednesday. Opening statements will come soon after, possibly as early as Thursday.
Jefferson, a Democrat who represented parts of New Orleans until losing his re-election bid last year, said after Tuesday's hearing that he is "confident we'll be able to make our case" to the jury.
Shortly after Jefferson was indicted in 2007, his lawyers sought to transfer the case from northern Virginia to either the District of Columbia or Louisiana.
The defense lawyers argued that prosecutors brought the case in Virginia in part to reduce the number of black jurors. Jefferson is black.
Prosecutors successfully argued that there were numerous reasons to bring the case in northern Virginia, given that it was a northern Virginia businesswoman whose complaints launched the initial investigation of Jefferson and that he was videotaped accepting a suitcase with $100,000 cash at a northern Virginia hotel.
At the trial on Tuesday, it appeared that no more than 10 percent of the potential jurors were black. Numerous jurors indicated that they had friends or family who work for the Justice Department, which is not surprising given the large number of federal employees living outside the nation's capital.
The 16-count indictment against Jefferson alleges that he engaged in bribery, racketeering, money laundering and other crimes by using his influence as a member of Congress to broker business deals in Africa. The indictment alleges that Jefferson received more than $400,000 in bribes and sought millions more.