Jury selection for the trial of Paul and Ruben Flores began Monday in Monterey County.
Over the next three weeks, the court must dwindle down an unprecedented jury pool of more than 1,500 potential jurors to just 40 in the dual jury trial of the father and son charged in connection with the 1996 murder of Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart.
Twelve jurors and eight alternates will be chosen for each defendant.
Four separate groups of potential jurors filled out questionnaires Monday for the courts to determine whether they would be moving on to the next round of jury selection. The first question was to determine whether the potential jurors have any medical or financial hardships that would prevent them from serving in this case.
The second was to find any reason that any potential jurors could not be fair and unbiased; having prior knowledge of the case would not necessarily be means for dismissal.
Other questions regarding life experiences and biographical information were included as well.
San Luis Obispo-based attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu, who has practiced law for more than four decades on the Central Coast, says the jury pool of more than 1,500 is something he’s never seen in a case residing in a population similar to the size of the Central Coast, but he thinks it could be warranted.
“The nature of the case, the dual juries, and the length of the case, the longer the case extends, less jurors are going to be available. Only so many people can sacrifice a couple of weeks, maybe even three or four weeks, but to ask a citizen to sacrifice 6 to 12 weeks, how many people can really do that? It limits the jury pool substantially. You'll get retired people, you'll get people who are employed by the state, major employers like PG&E who pay for jury duty, pay your salary, while you still are required to perform your service,” Funke-Bliu said.
Regardless of possible obstacles the court might face, Funke-Bilu stressed his faith that the court system will find a fair and impartial jury for both Paul and Ruben Flores.
The remainder of the jury pool will be questioned throughout the week. The potential jurors that are not excused during the initial questioning will be back in court over the next two weeks. The jury for Paul is set to be determined by June 24 and the jury for Ruben will be finalized by July 1.
Opening statements are set to begin July 6 with the trial anticipated to last through at least the beginning of October.