Jury selection complete in Landrum trial

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 1, 2005

What was already a long day for potential jurors in the Michael Landrum capital case will become a long week for some as 14 members from a pool of over 80 were told they would have to return to the Marengo County Courthouse by 9 p.m. to be checked into a local hotel.

The sequestering of the jury is standard procedure in a capital murder case to ensure their only influence in the case will come from the defense and prosecution. The jury reported to the courthouse at around 9 a.m. Monday morning and the selected jurors, which include nine white males, three white females, one black male and one black female were announced shortly before 6 p.m.

When court resumes Tuesday the jury will have the task of determining the guilt or innocence of Landrum. In Aug. of 2003 Landrum was arrested and charged with capital charges including two counts of capital murder during a burglary, capital murder of a child and one count of capital murder of two or more people.

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Landrum is accused of conspiring with a Lisman man to kill his daughter, Mikayla Little, who was three years old and her grandmother, Ida Little who was 52.

Landrum has been held in jail without bond since his arrest.

Both the District Attorney, Greg Griggers and defense, Dennis Knizley, took turns addressing the jury pool to make sure Landrum would receive the fair trial he is entitled to.

Griggers told the jurors it was very important for them to answer all questions honestly to be sure this was possible.

“We have a serious case to try,” Griggers said. “It is serious for the state of Alabama and the defense.”

Griggers assured them the personal questions all had a place in selecting jury members.

“This is our chance to get to know you so we feel good, both the defense and the state, about who is selected,” Griggers said. “The only way this works is if you are honest with us. For those of you who stand up when we ask questions, thank you for your honesty. All we want is to have a fair trial. That is what we want and what we are trying to do.”

The questions ranged from several different areas including health status of potential jurors and their prior knowledge of the case.

After the first series of questions the group was thinned significantly as 17 members were dismissed because of health problems and two were dismissed because they did not live in Marengo County.

The jurors were also asked if they had a strong stance on capital punishment and the death penalty in particular. Some members stood to let the court know they had strong beliefs regarding the death penalty whether they were religious or just personal.

This question could prove to be very important as the trial progresses. Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway Jr., who will preside over the case, said their beliefs on the death penalty could have a huge bearing in their decisions because it is a two-part case for the jury. If the jury finds Landrum guilty there is another chapter for them to consider. It will also be up to the jury to recommend whether Landrum will face death, possibly by lethal injection, or life in prison. Hardaway said if jurors felt strongly against the death penalty it might motivate them to avoid a guilty plea so that they will not have to make a decision on the life of Landrum.

Near the end of his portion of the questioning Knizley reminded the jury of their serious task at hand.

“I think it is quite clear the serious nature and gravity of this case,” Knizley said. “It is so important in a case of this gravity that Michael and the state get a fair trial. That is why we are asking all these questions.”

Choosing a jury was tricky because Marengo is a rural county. Many people are associated, no matter how indirectly, or acquanted with each other. Many potential jurors had ties to Landrum or his family. On the opposite side of the spectrum, many were also friends or neighbors of the victims. It was up to the defense and prosecution to meet in the middle and select 14 impartial members.

While it took careful evaluation, the two were able to put together 14 members they could agree on.

Trial proceedings and opening arguments are set to begin Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. at the Marengo County Courthouse. The trial is hoped to conclude by the end of the week, however, it is possible the jury will be held over the weekend and the trial continue into next week.