Jurors who failed to pass muster on the first day of the Jonathan Renfro murder trial walked from the Kootenai County Courthouse one at a time Monday as they were released from jury duty.
About 80 of the more than 900 jurors who responded to a jury duty questionnaire appeared in the morning at Coeur d’Alene’s First District Court to begin the weaning process that will result in 16 jurors, including four alternates.
More than 40 people were released from their jury duty before 10 a.m. after being deemed by presiding First District Court Judge Lansing Haynes as unsatisfactory candidates based on their answers to questions by attorneys. That left approximately 40 potential jurors to be further scrutinized by Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh and lead defense counsel Keith Roark, who whittled the number of candidates down to about 20 by lunchtime.
The remaining candidates were questioned individually.
The same process will continue each day this week. Once 44 candidates are chosen, attorneys will continue to winnow until they agree on 16 jurors, Jury Commissioner Pete Barnes said.
Seating a fair and impartial jury could last two weeks, but attorneys and the court have intimated a jury could be chosen sooner than that, Barnes said.
“I think that’s the hope,” he said.
Renfro, who is charged with first-degree murder for allegedly killing Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore, is expected to go to trial as soon as the selection process is completed. The trial could last through September.
Jurors who make the final cut will participate in two phases of the upcoming trial.
In the guilt phase, jurors must determine if Renfro, 29, is responsible for the May 5, 2015, shooting death of Moore. Renfro is accused of shooting the officer with a Glock pistol he had in his pocket when Moore confronted him after dark in a Coeur d’Alene neighborhood where residents had reported burglaries and vandalism.
If he’s convicted, Renfro could face the death penalty. But it is not up to the judge. Jurors must also determine during the trial’s penalty phase whether factors warrant a death sentence. By Monday, the penalty phase had already resulted in the release of potential jurors including candidates who said they morally opposed the death penalty, and those who thought the death penalty should always be imposed.
One of the candidates at Monday’s jury selection was released after telling the court of his third-party acquaintance with the Moore family, and that his friends have K27 stickers on their cars. The stickers are a tribute to Moore.
Another candidate said because the shooting had occurred near his neighborhood, he has closely followed media accounts.
A candidate who said many of his friends were police officers told the court he felt an allegiance to law enforcement.
Haynes reiterated a juror’s opinion was less important than whether he or she could base their decision solely on the facts presented in court.
“In a case like this, unless you haven’t been paying attention at all, everyone comes into court with some opinion about the matter,” Haynes said. “The issue is whether you can follow the court’s instruction ... and set aside that opinion.”
Renfro, who appeared in court wearing slacks, a white shirt, tie and black-framed glasses, quietly watched the proceedings surrounded by his team of attorneys.
Once the trial begins, the court has opted to adjourn at noon each Wednesday, taking Wednesday afternoons off, Haynes said.