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Preparations for murder trial continue

JACKSON -- The long process of jury selection began Tuesday morning at the Jackson Courthouse in preparation for the trial of Juan Humberto Castillo-Alvarez, who is accused of aiding and abetting in the murder and kidnapping of 15-year-old Gregory "Sky" Erickson in 1997.

Selection will be accomplished during a process called voir dire, with each prospective juror being questioned individually. Each person had already filled out a questionnaire regarding certain aspects of the case, and a copy was provided to both the prosecution and defense.

After viewing a video about basic jury duties, the prospective jurors met with Judge Linda Titus, who filled them in on a few more details -- the charges against the defendant and the use of interpreters during the upcoming trial. She also instructed the jurors to avoid watching news or reading newspapers that might include information about the case.

"Do not e-mail, blog or post anything to Facebook about the case," she added.

Most of the jurors were dismissed for the day, while several were asked to wait in a separate room for their turn at questioning by the judge, defense attorney Louis Kuchera and prosecutor Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, assisted by Jackson County Attorney Robert O'Connor.

Average time to question a juror was approximately half an hour. After the judge asked each one of there was anything on their schedule or any physical concerns that would prevent them from attending trial for the next three weeks, she turned the questioning over to Kuchera.

With their individual questionnaires sitting in front of him, Kuchera asked for clarification on some of the responses. The prospective jurors were encouraged by all of the attorneys to answer open and honestly and told there were no wrong answers.

"Do you think of drug dealing as evidence of murder?" Kuchera asked.

"Have you ever viewed a picture of a deceased person before?"

"Have you read or heard anything about this case?"

Some of the jurors admitted they had heard of the case back when it happened in 1997 and remembered some details. The answers were as varied as the jurors themselves. One admitted she thought Hispanic people were more likely to commit crime -- an impression she had gotten after listening to tales from a former co-worker who was employed in the Worthington school district. Another stated she thought people involved in the case had fled to Mexico, that drug dealers were wrong and that viewing photos of the deceased would disturb her.

One juror stated she remembered the case, had found it disturbing, and that drugs tended to make her believe the worst of people.

Kuchera asked each juror what they would think if Castillo-Alvarez did not testify on his own behalf. While most of the jurors said they believed that was his right, one was more forthcoming.

"If he has no guilt, I don't know why he wouldn't want to testify and clear his own name," the juror stated.

That person was promptly dismissed by the defense.

The prosecution also had standard questions they asked each juror, with Frank doing his best, as Kuchera had, to put each person at ease. He asked each person if they thought they were good at making decisions or deciding who to believe and if they understood the meaning of "beyond a reasonable doubt."

The individual questioning process will continue until 22 jurors have been passed by both the defense and prosecution, then both sides will be given the chance to strike until there is a full jury of 12 with two alternates.