Ramsey County jury pools beefed up due to flu

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 24, 2013 - 12:17 PM

The flu is causing Ramsey County judges to pick extra alternates rather than face possible mistrials as jurors fall ill.

The murder trial for Nicholas Kruse was to start Thursday, but opening statements were delayed.

The flu epidemic is to blame.

Ramsey County District Court judges, including Joanne Smith, who is presiding over Kruse's case, are having attorneys pick extra alternate jurors to make up for those who are sick, said David Marchetti, supervisor for jury operations.

So instead of the opening arguments Thursday morning, jury selection continued in Kruse's case, where 12 jurors plus three alternates are being chosen, rather than the usual two alternates.

"We're padding the numbers a pinch because of this issue," Marchetti said of the flu.

In this case, a few more jurors were sent, for a pool totaling 40, to Smith's courtroom on Tuesday, where he is to stand trial in the gang-related second-degree murder of Dekoda Galtney in September 2011 in St. Paul.

The issue of not enough jurors to hear a case first emerged in Ramsey County courts in December, for health reasons other than the flu. A St. Paul gang member was on trial in a high-profile rape case that could have easily been derailed as jurors were dismissed.

Defendant Mang Yang, 24, was given the choice of whether he wanted to have a mistrial declared or to trust his fate to only 11 jurors. He waived his right to a jury of 12 and was convicted of four felony charges, including first-degree criminal sexual conduct and committiong a crim for the benefit of a gang.

The reduced jury was the result of a series of unusual twists, including one juror who needed emergency surgery on his foot. Two alternate jurors were excused earlier in the trial after one was overcome with anxiety and the other fell asleep during testimony.

In his 20 years on the bench, Ramsey County Judge Gregg Johnson said at the time, he'd never had an issue like this. He has had trials last five weeks, for example, without losing jurors, and that was to be only a weeklong trial.

About five weeks ago, Marchetti said, his staff began fielding so many calls from sick people who were supposed to report for jury duty that he began recommending that judges add more alternates.

Since then, judges in about half of the cases tried in St. Paul have added alternate jurors, he said.

In a weeklong misdemeanor or grosss misdemeanor trial, for example, he's recommending that not one but two alternates be selected. And if it's a two-week trial, they should have three alternates rather than two, and so on, Marchetti said.

"Our normal panel size for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor case is 18 jurors who are sent to the courtroom," he said. "So we would normally call in 20. This week it's 22."

Marchetti said Smith was wise to seat an extra alternate juror, for 15 total, for Kruse's trial.

"I just simply recommend picking additional alternates and leave it up to the judge," Marchetti said.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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