Davidian Jury — Kept Safe or In The Dark?

(San Antonio) — On December 6,1993, presiding Judge Walter Smith ordered an anonymous jury impaneled to hear the case against the Branch Davidians. Jury selection began in San Antonio on January 10, 1994. The reason given was "to protect the privacy, integrity and security of the jurors" because "Many members of the public have expressed highly emotional reactions and attitudes toward the government agents and the Defendants." This reasoning led the press and the public to conclude that there was a high probability of danger to the jurors.

Between December 14-20, several of the defendants filed motions objecting to the Court's ruling on juror anonymity. They felt the ruling would "cause members of the jury panel to believe that the Defendants are dangerous and violent," and thus "unduly prejudice" the jury against the defendants.

Judge Smith denied their motions on December 30 stating that, although such a procedure "generally involves organized crime or some other violent criminal organization" and was done "to protect prospective jurors from harassment or retaliation from ... defendants accused of murder," he was "not as concerned about the possibility of the Defendants or their associates threatening the jury members." Instead, his concern was:

"... with various members of the public that have expressed highly emotional reactions to this case, and have expressed an interest in affecting its outcome. It has been reported, for example, that an organization plans to ... hand out leaflets to potential jurors about how they should ignore the law and follow their conscience."

FIJA (Fully Informed Jury Association) considered this a reference to itself and its activities since it is the only organization known to use this means to educate jurors about their rights, powers, duties and responsibilities, and which has publicly expressed its intent to do so outside the Federal Courthouse in San Antonio during the Branch Davidian trial.

It filed a motion on January 10 explaining that FIJA does not advocate that jurors ignore the law and follow their conscience, but that they be informed of their right and power to do so, if necessary, to render a just verdict. The motion went on to say that FIJA information is general in nature, not case specific, and is not intended to influence the Branch Davidian jurors to vote one way or the other. The organization targets high profile cases because they provide an opportunity to educate large numbers of people efficiently. The motion also asked the Court to release the entire Qualified Master Jury Wheel for the San Antonio Division of the Western District Court, thus far denied to FIJA by the Clerk of Court.

by Benedict D. LaRosa

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