Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Closed stairs big concern for Selena murder trial

Court officials unable to move jurors quickly


Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

A closed stairway in the county-owned Congress Plaza Building is fast changing from a major inconvenience to a cause of near panic for officials planning the Selena murder trial.

The flight of 24 stairs had been the main path for jurors to move from the Jury Assembly Room, where they are organized into smaller jury pools, to various county courtrooms to be interviewed for possible jury service.

The stairs, which lead into the underground tunnel system connecting five Harris County buildings, were closed two weeks ago after several people fell. The only alternative to the stairs is a bank of three elevators that frequently are busy transporting people to courtrooms and the law library 19 floors up.

And while the $25,000 stair repair is inconvenient to people working in the building, it is a royal pain for those responsible for supplying county civil and criminal courts with jurors.

"They're going to kill us," said Rick Sander, the chief deputy district clerk. "Our greatest concern is the Selena trial coming up."

Sander said as many as 900 potential jurors -- 200 more than usual --are expected to show up for jury call on Oct. 9, when Yolanda Saldivar is scheduled to begin trial in the killing of the popular singer.

Quickly moving that many people through metal detectors at the front door of the Congress Plaza Building and into the Jury Assembly Room already looms as a major hurdle for district clerk officials, Sander said. But having to later herd hundreds in small groups into tiny, frequently busy elevators to be taken down one floor sends chills down his spine.

County Building Superintendent Mike Surface said the stairs were ordered closed because of "slip-and-fall incidents."

"We didn't want people to keep using them," Surface said. "I don't know whether it was a design flaw or a construction flaw, but it's not uniform. The stairway does not have the rhythym it needs."

Surface said the depth of some of the steps differs from the depth of others in the same flight, causing some people to stumble as they go up and down. In addition, the width of some of the foot pads onto which people step also may differ from one step to the next.

Surface said it would be about five months before the county can finish the repairs. The stairs will remain blocked by large pieces of plywood.

In the meantime, a panel of judges overseeing jury panels and the District Clerk's office intend to ask Surface to open three other elevators that now have restricted access for security reasons. By reprogramming all six elevators and moving the metal detectors into the tunnel system, county officials think they can ease the flow of jury traffic between county buildings.

"We're trying to send that sense of urgency out there," Sander said.