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Jury seated in Rochester Police Department officer killed trial

Sat, April 25, 2015 11:04 AM | NYGIA (Administrator)

Rochester, N.Y. - A jury was seated late Friday in the trial of the man accused of shooting Rochester Police Officer Daryl Pierson. Twelve jurors and six alternates were selected after 375 people were screened over 3 days.

"We've been very thorough in our questioning of the potential jurors and I'm confident we produced a jury and alternates that will be fair and impartial," said District Attorney Sandra Doorley.

Thomas Johnson III is accused of intentionally shooting officer Pierson during a foot chase September 3, 2014. He's also accused of the attempted murder of another police officer and shooting a civilian caught in the crossfire.

Thousands of people in Rochester attended Pierson's funeral and there has been extensive publicity in that case. Defense attorneys sought a change in venue fearing they could not get a fair trial here.

That opinion appears to change after jury selection this week.

"We've selected 12 jurors and six alternates and no one is someone on the jury that Thomas Johnson would not approve of,” said Defense Attorney James Hinman.

It's been almost 8 months since the community mourned the death of Officer Pearson. Beginning Monday the community will learn in great detail what happened on Hudson Avenue the night of September 3.

Both the prosecution and defense will lay out their cases in opening statements. Prosecutors will be the first to present witnesses and some of the first people the community will hear from are Rochester police officers who were there the night officer Pierson was killed.

"The biggest challenge will be dealing with the emotion," said Doorley. "I'm sure it will be emotional for the witnesses who testified as well as Amy Pierson, her family and Rochester Police. But we'll get through it."

It is unclear whether the defense will call any witnesses, though under the law they are not required to do so.

"I do not expect Mr. Johnson to be acquitted," said Hinman. "I do not intend to argue Mr. Johnson is not responsible for officer Pierson's death. The issue is what is the level of responsibility."

In order to get the strongest sentence of life without parole, jurors must find intent. Jurors must believe Johnson intentionally shot Officer Daryl Pierson.

The trial will unfold 4 days a week for the next 3-4 weeks. The duration of the trial led to the decision to seek 6 alternates when the usual number is 2.

Alternate jurors sit alongside the regular jury and step in if someone is dismissed for any reason. 

"If someone becomes ill or has a family emergency and we lose one of the 12 we would have to start all over. Nobody wants that," said Hinman.

In the 1991 trial of serial killer Arthur Shawcross, 4 alternate jurors were selected. The trial lasted 12 weeks and none of the alternates were pressed into service.

However, Chuck Siragusa, who prosecuted in that case and hundreds of others said alternate jurors are used more often than most people think. He estimated alternates stepped in about one quarter of the cases he has tried.

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