TW - Jury selection underway in Gundersen case

Jury selection underway in Gundersen case 7/17/08

Jury selection got underway Wednesday for the trial of former Blue Lake Police Chief David Gundersen, the first step in what's expected to be a long, arduous process.

Gundersen, who was arrested Feb. 8 and now faces 28 felony charges, remains held in the Humboldt County jail on $1.25 million bail. The charges include allegations of spousal rape, forcible rape of a second victim and possessing a submachine gun and a pistol with an attached silencer. Gundersen, who has pleaded not guilty, made a brief public court appearance Wednesday.

He sat next to his attorney, Russell Clanton, dressed in slacks and a dress shirt.

A flock of potential jurors were called in and spent the morning filling out hardship questionnaires designed to determine if spending eight to 10 weeks hearing the case would cause them an undue financial or personal burden. Based on the forms, prospective jurors were either excused or retained, with a small number who gave ambiguous answers being called before Judge Bruce Watson for more information.

The retained jurors were then asked to fill out a questionnaire -- prepared by Clanton and District Attorney Paul Gallegos -- seeking to weed out potentially biased jurors from the pool.

Of the 10 potential jurors questioned before the judge, six were excused due to hardship concerns, three were asked to fill out the second questionnaire and one was excused for bias after telling the court he felt Gundersen was guilty.

Gallegos said filling a jury for a long trial is generally more time consuming due to hardship concerns.

”The longer the trial, the more you lose because it has a bigger impact on their lives,” he said.

The case is likely to lose some more potential jurors after they fill out the second questionnaire, which asks a litany of personal questions seeking to uncover potential prejudices.

The 11-page questionnaire begins by asking potential jurors about their personal histories, including questions about their education and employment histories, marital status and experiences with crime and law enforcement.

Then, the questionnaire moves into questions more pertinent to Gundersen's case.

”The defendant is the former police chief of Blue Lake and Trinidad. Is there anything about this fact that affects your ability to remain impartial?” it asks.

The questionnaire then asks jurors about their views of the Eureka Police Department and if they believe “law enforcement would alter the truth in order to protect a fellow officer.”

Those questions may be in reference to Jane Doe 2, who testified during Gundersen's preliminary hearing that she first reported her allegations that Gundersen raped her in 1999 to the EPD shortly after the alleged offense. She testified her report was never followed up on.

There are also some questions regarding Jane Doe 1, Gundersen's wife, whom the defendant faces 24 counts of allegedly raping while she was under the influence of the sleep aid Lunesta or other drugs. The questionnaire asks potential jurors a series of questions about sleep aid usage.

Potential jurors are also asked if they would be comfortable hearing testimony describing sexual acts, what they have read about the case, if what they have read has affected their opinions of Gundersen's innocence or guilt and their opinions of Gallegos and Clanton.

It also includes a list of potential witnesses in the case, and asks potential jurors to circle the names of people they know.

On Tuesday, Watson deferred any ruling on Clanton's motion for a change of venue until jury selection is underway. If at any point during the jury selection process Watson believes the court won't be able to impanel an impartial jury, he could grant the motion. In that case, the trial would be held in another county or a jury from another county would be brought in to hear the case locally.

Jury selection is scheduled to continue today.

Jury questions:
* Do you believe law enforcement has a greater duty to follow the law than a civilian? If yes, please describe:
* Who do you believe should have control over the strategic and tactical missions of a police department?
* Will your ability to remain impartial be compromised if you hear testimony of sexual habits you find disagreeable? If yes, please explain:
* Have you read anything about this case? If yes: What have you read? Where did you read it? When did you read it?
* Would you be more likely to find the defendant guilty or innocent because of the fact of the media's coverage of this case? Yes, No, Possibly, No effect.
Source: Questionnaire given to prospective jurors

Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 07/17/2008 01:16:30 AM PDT