Wednesday, September 5, 2012

El Reno, OK: Judge: Quickly select jury in Okla. murder trial

EL RENO, Okla. (AP) — A judge warned prosecutors and defense attorneys Tuesday that he wants a jury quickly selected in the murder trial of an Oklahoma man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and her four children.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Sept. 17 in the case of Joshua Durcho, who could face the death penalty if convicted. Attorneys will select 12 jurors from a pool of 120 Canadian County residents, and District Judge Gary Miller said he wants a jury seated by Sept. 21 so testimony can get under way.

"I'm not going to drag this thing out over five, six, seven weeks," Miller said during a brief hearing Tuesday.

Durcho is accused of fatally strangling 25-year-old Summer Rust and her children — 3-year-old Evynn Garas, 4-year-old Teagin Rust and 7-year-old daughters Kirsten and Autumn Rust — in the family's El Reno apartment in the January 2009. Prosecutors allege Durcho also sexually abused the 7-year-old girls.

If Durcho is convicted, jurors would decide whether he should receive the death penalty or life in prison. Durcho has pleaded not guilty.

The judge will question prospective jurors in groups of 15. But each person will be questioned privately about his or her views on the death penalty and whether pre-trial publicity about the case has had any influence, Assistant District Attorney Paul Hesse said. Jurors will be questioned individually to prevent their answers to the questions from influencing other jurors.

Dozens of witnesses will likely testify during the trial, which is expected to last at least three weeks.

Defense attorney Wayne Woodyard said that if his client is convicted, he will present evidence of Durcho's mental capacity to help him avoid the death penalty. The judge has already rejected defense claims that Durcho meets the legal definition of mentally retarded, which would make him ineligible for the death penalty.

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