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Juror interviews offer insight

One potential juror described how he was falsely accused of fondling a girl. One talked about his wife being raped. Another had to recount his two DUIs.

This week in the courtroom of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner, stories of regular people _ not NFL star Ray Lewis _ are the stories that count. One by one, potential jurors for the Buckhead stabbings case have been grilled by as many as four lawyers at a time and sometimes the judge herself.

Sometimes irritated, often fidgeting and usually stone-faced, jurors sit in what Bonner calls the "hot seat," the middle chair of the jury box. To shield their identities, they are referred to only by designated numbers.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers have qualified 32, enough prospective jurors to pick 12. But questioning continues so they can get six alternates for the anticipated monthlong trial.

Bonner expressed frustration late Thursday at the pace of questioning and expected length of the case, saying, "This trial should last one week."

Some potential jurors have been quizzed for 45 minutes, explaining opinions about law enforcement, pro sports, O.J. Simpson's acquittal and rap music.

One candidate, a stagehand who likes old Westerns, wondered aloud toward the end of his inquisition what could be worse: serving on this jury or keeping a dentist's appointment next week to get a tooth pulled.

With testimony expected to begin Tuesday, the trial of Lewis, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting is expected to provide up to a month of grand courtroom theater. But this week the spotlight is on the trial's most important audience _ those who will be picked to decide whether the defendants are guilty of killing two Decatur men Jan. 31 after a night of post-Super Bowl partying.

TV courtroom dramas highlight emotional closing arguments and blistering cross-examinations. But to attorneys who try cases for a living, victory depends on picking the right jurors.

"It's the most important process in a criminal trial," Atlanta criminal defense lawyer Brian Steel said. "Most people think this isn't a big deal. But this is everything."

In fact, jury selection is a time to plant ideas in jurors' heads before they hear a witness, Steel said.

"It's critical," said District Attorney Paul Howard, who starts off apologizing to each potential juror for the personal nature of his questions.

"In this case we have a football player, and you have to look for someone who is not enamored or intimidated by that," Howard said Thursday during a courtroom break. "That's important because this is America and we as a society pay a lot of attention to people in entertainment."

While about four dozen Fulton residents who have been questioned do not constitute a representative sample of Fulton's 750,000 residents _ 53 percent black and 45 percent white. But they do offer a snapshot of mind-sets and life experiences.

Many have loved ones who were gunshot victims or are serving time in prison. Many don't trust the news media. Some have great faith in law enforcement. Some have no trust in it at all.

Many said they enjoy TV crime shows. COPS is a big favorite.

While jury selection offers a glimpse into the lives of everyday people, it also allows observers _ and the opposing side _ to glean glimpses of trial strategy.

In a nutshell, the defenses seem to be:

People were drunk, the victims' group picked a fight and Lewis tried to be a "peacemaker."

Sweeting was defending himself and his friends, especially the women with him.

Oakley was knocked senseless by a champagne bottle and in no shape to kill anybody.

Juror No. 38 said of Lewis, "He's a good football player; you got to respect him."

Another, a young man, said he didn't like sports or defense lawyers. "It's not right a lot of guilty rich people go free," he wrote in a questionnaire.

One juror said, "You can't judge a book by its cover," and juror No. 35 was certainly an example.

The white, older-middle-aged Sandy Springs man appeared to be a prosecutor favorite when he told of his initial reaction to the killings: "Obviously, at 4 a.m., the parties were probably drunk or on drugs."

Lewis attorney Ed Garland then asked what he thought about people being out at that hour.

"I wish I was with them," he said. It was the only time Lewis has laughed during the proceedings.

Schlichter arrested

RAVENNA, Ohio _ Federal marshals arrested Art Schlichter, the former Colts and Ohio State quarterback whose gambling problems ended his NFL career, at a restaurant.

Authorities had been searching for Schlichter, 40, throughout the Midwest since Monday when he was charged with money laundering in Indianapolis. Marshals found a vehicle believed to be driven by Schlichter at a farm in Windham, about 50 miles southeast of Cleveland, said Frank Anderson, U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Indiana.

After raiding the farm, marshals drove to nearby Ravenna, where they arrested Schlichter without incident, Anderson said in a news release. Schlichter was talking on a pay telephone when the marshals arrived at 6:45 p.m.

"Well, it looks like I have to go. The U.S. marshals are here for me," Mark Robinett, a deputy U.S. marshal, quoted Schlichter as saying.

Schlichter was transported to Akron, where he will remain pending his extradition to Indiana.

Around pro football

EAGLES: First-round pick Corey Simon from Florida State was limited in both minicamp sessions because of back spasms.

XFL: Viacom Inc.'s UPN, the No. 5 broadcast television network based on ratings, will air the games of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc.'s new league starting in February.

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