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Lawyers Spar, Juror Breaks Down and Is Excused

July 15, 1995

UNION, S.C. (AP) _ The tedious jury selection in Susan Smith’s trial slowed a bit more when a juror en route to being sequestered had to be excused after breaking down in tears over her husband’s medical problems.

Her removal capped an emotional day in court, in which a defense lawyer strongly criticized statements about the case from the South Carolina attorney general.

As jury selection resumed today, two more members remained to be picked for the 12-person jury, along with six alternates. Named to the panel so far were four white men, three black men, two white women and a black woman.

Court had adjourned for the evening when Circuit Judge William Howard recalled the lawyers to reconsider the last juror selected, a woman who had been questioned for 90 minutes and had hoped to avoid service on the jury.

She said her husband was partially paralyzed and would have difficulty coping with her in sequestration during a trial that Howard said may last three weeks. After saying family members would be able to care for him, she was selected.

While still in the courtroom, she held her head in her hands at the news. And leaving the courthouse with agents who escort all jurors she burst into tears.

Howard subsequently excused the woman, who would have been the 11th juror, after meeting with the lawyers. Defense lawyer David Bruck explained the woman’s husband’s condition was worse than she had indicated in court.

Earlier, an angry Bruck promised to raise in court a statement delivered Friday by state Attorney General Charlie Condon. Condon claimed Bruck orchestrated pressure on prosecutors in the case to accept a plea bargain.

Condon’s statement said in part: ``Why is he not willing to plead his client guilty and make his case for life in prison at a sentencing hearing before the judge? That would be both fair and very cost-efficient.″

Ms. Smith, 23, is charged with two counts of murder for rolling her car into a lake Oct. 25 with her sons, 3-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alex, strapped inside. She had claimed that a black carjacker kidnapped the boys, but then confessed.

Bruck called the criticism of him ill-timed and improper.

``I think it’s time the attorney general read the Constitution of the United States,″ he said. ``It is very disappointing that a lawyer would make a statement like this, let alone an attorney general.″

The trial got four more jurors during Friday’s individual questioning.

After the dismissal of a death penalty opponent who is black, Bruck noted there were no black women on the jury and suggested he might move to strike the jury because of gender and race bias.

The next juror, a black woman in her 20s, was added to the jury. She wavered on whether she could vote for the death penalty but under questioning from Bruck, decided she couldn’t.

She reversed positions and said she could vote for death to protect society from serial killers, but not in the Smith’s case. ``I felt like there had to be something wrong for her to do that,″ she said.

The lawyers qualified her after she said she could put aside all her opinions.

In another development, a witness in the case denied Friday that Ms. Smith told him a few days before her sons drowned, ``I wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t have kids.″

The Charlotte Observer had quoted sources as saying Benjy Brown relayed that statement to investigators, but Brown’s lawyer said she never made the remark to his client.

``She always spoke in a very loving way when she was discussing her children,″ Brown said in statement released by attorney Chuck Thompson.

Jim Walser, assistant managing editor of the Observer said the newspaper stood by the story.

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