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Potential jurors down to 50 in Lyons case

Attorneys now will do more in-depth interviews to cut the pool down to a panel of six and three alternates.


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 1999

LARGO -- Lawyers Wednesday narrowed the pool of potential jurors in the racketeering trial of Baptist leader Henry J. Lyons and his former aide Bernice Edwards to 50 people, a group that includes just one African-American.

A Ministry in Question: more Times coverage of the Rev. Henry Lyons

Those 50 will be questioned extensively today about everything from their views on race and religion to their attitudes toward law enforcement before a final panel of six jurors and three alternates is seated.

That task could be finished today. Opening statements are scheduled Jan. 25.

One other African-American in the original jury pool of 100 people was dismissed Wednesday after she said she couldn't render an unbiased verdict because she thought Edwards and Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, were guilty.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer, meanwhile, became angered after learning that a WFLA-Ch. 8 news report identified a potential juror in the pool of 50 despite the judge's request that reporters not identify jurors.

The man identified is the son of a prominent Tampa Bay-area businessman.

Reporters are free to identify jurors after they have reached a verdict, but Schaeffer said she doesn't want undue pressure put on potential jurors.

The potential juror's attorney wrote a letter to the judge that, according to defense lawyers, expressed concern about the possible "stigma" that might be attached to the family name if he now serves on the case.

The judge declined to release the letter and an affidavit signed by the man.

A motion by Lyons' attorneys said the potential juror's affidavit "leaves one to question whether or not the juror has some fear of African-Americans or the African-American community."

Attorney Grady Irvin Jr., who will not comment about the case, asked Schaeffer to allow the defense to present jurors with a questionnaire to help root out potential prejudices or biases.

Schaeffer denied the request and might question the potential juror today about his concerns.


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