More than 50 potential jurors were screened and 22 were selected for final questioning before 12 are approved.
The jury selection process began Monday for the Crookston man accused of manslaughter in a Christmas Day 2015 incident at Crooks Club, and over 50 jurors sat at the Polk County Justice Center waiting to be screened and potentially selected.
Ninth District Judge Tamara Yon gave 53 potential jurors their preliminary instructions on the criminal case for 29-year-old Brock Strommen who the state says “intentionally or intended to inflict bodily harm” which caused the death of East Grand Forks man John Henry Torres.
Strommen faces a 15-year sentence for the first-degree manslaughter charge and more for the assault and disorderly conduct charges stemming from the December 25th incident outside Crooks Club where he and Torres had an altercation. Torres allegedly came back into the bar with blood coming from his ear and his fiancé, Rita Saenz, drove him to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks where he died a week later after complications from surgery.
The Torres and Saenz families held silent protests outside the Justice Center in January 2016 hoping to seek answers a month after the incident when there were no arrests made. Strommen was later arrested in March after months of questioning by police and the questioning of dozens of witnesses related to the case.
The Strommen trial continues this week and will run through Friday after the jury is selected. As of press time Tuesday, the jury selection had not yet been completed.
JURY DUTY PROCESS
Have you ever wondered what transpires after you get that letter in the mail stating you are being asked to potentially serve on a jury? Well, for this case, it meant filling out a questionnaire and then appearing in court to receive instructions from the judge.
In this particular criminal case, Judge Yon told the potential jurors to remember that a complaint is not evidence, that no jury should be prejudice because of the indictment and that the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judge said they will be asking qualifying questions of the jurors to be able to sit for this case under oath and not to take offense to any of the questions because some may be of a sensitive manner or even embarrassing to them or their family.
“Be as candid and truthful as possible,” said Judge Yon Monday. “We want to select a fair and partial jury.”
Examples of the juror instructions provided and questions asked Monday to the group of potential jurors:
• Would anyone have trouble with following that the defendant is presumed innocent?
• The state must prove each charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
• The defendant does not have to prove his innocence.
• Do any of you know any of the other people on this jury panel? If you do, would any of these people affect your judgment or decisions in this case? (The example that Judge Yon gave was if one of the other jurors was their “sworn enemy” or “best friend”)
• Has anyone served on a jury before? If yes, was the jury they served on able to reach a verdict?
• While serving on the jury, you are not allowed to research the case, talk about the case with others, look up information on laws or do anything that could jeopardize this case and trial.
Judge Yon, attorneys representing the state (Andrew Johnson and Polk County Attorney Greg Widseth) and the defense’s attorney (Kerry Rosenquist) then began calling each juror individually to the witness stand for separate questioning to determine their eligibility. Some of the things asked, like in their questionnaires, were: if they had any connections or relationships to people on the witness list, if they had any connections to law enforcement, attorneys or doctors/nurses related to and not related to the case; if because of the nature of this case if they would find it difficult to be fair or partial, and if they would feel uncomfortable if they were asked to view photos or videos of the crime scene or any evidence presented for the case.
Another interesting, but necessary, question for jurors was if they liked to watch police and crime shows on television. If they did, did they have any illusions as how police work is carried out on television versus reality?
Widseth’s first question for the first couple of jurors sitting on the witness stand for questioning was, “Are you nervous?”
The attorneys and Judge Yon will continue to interview potential jurors for the case Tuesday and the Times will keep you informed on the progress of the case throughout the week.