Potential jurors say minds set
Selection starts in Selena trial
By PATTY REINERT Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle
9:57 PM 10/9/1995
About a third of the potential jurors in the Selena murder trial said Monday they had heard of the Tejano star before her death, and many of those said they have already made up their minds about who killed her.
Of the 155 people called into the courtroom Monday, 22 told lawyers they had formed an opinion in the case, with a few blurting out that they believe Yolanda Saldivar is guilty.
Saldivar, 35, is on trial in the March 31 shooting death of Selena Quintanilla Perez at a Corpus Christi motel. She signed a confession, but now claims the shooting was accidental. If convicted, she faces a sentence ranging from probation to life in prison. During hours of questioning, Saldivar's court-appointed lawyer repeatedly asked each of the prospective jurors to stand and face his client and tell her they believe she is innocent. Many said they could not.
Asked whether they would consider probation as a potential punishment if Saldivar is found guilty, many said they thought that was too light. Most of the 82 men and 73 women were Anglos, but there were 26 African-Americans, 23 Hispanics and nine Asian-Americans. Sixty-six of those questioned Monday will return to the courtroom today as attorneys continue the process of finding 12 jurors and two alternates.
Opening statements are expected Wednesday. Saldivar, a former nurse who founded the Selena Fan Club and managed the singer's boutiques, has been in jail awaiting trial. She smiled and appeared to be in good spirits as she sat at the defense table Monday. Dressed in tan slacks, an ivory blouse and plaid jacket, and wearing no make-up or jewelry, she appeared to have lost weight since her last court appearance a month ago.
A Quintanilla family spokesman, Joe Villarreal, met with reporters Monday night and read a prepared statement in which the singer's family stated they bore no ill will toward the defendant's family and were working "to follow through with Selena's dreams through the Selena foundation set up to support the education of future generations." In the courtroom earlier in the day, as Corpus Christi defense lawyer Doug Tinker introduced her, Saldivar stood up and moved in front of the defense table so prospective jurors could get a better look at her. "We'd like you, throughout the trial, to look at her as the human being that she is," Tinker said. Saldivar said, "Good morning,"and the jurors responded politely.
inker said he is looking for jurors who will keep an open mind about his theory that the shooting was an accident. "This is not a complicated case," he said. "If she did not intentionally do it, she is not guilty of murder. She may be guilty of something else." "The prosecution would like 12 highway patrolmen," Tinker added. "I would like 12 people who believe a weapon can accidentally discharge when it's in the hands of someone else." Twenty of the panelists raised their hands to say they do not believe that is possible.
Tinker also told them his biggest concern in the case is Selena's celebrity. "Selena Quintanilla Perez is dead. There's nothing I can do about that," he said. "But regardless of what you've heard, nothing about this trial is going to reflect badly on Selena Quintanilla Perez. When this trial is done, her reputation is going to be as clean as it was before her death."
In an apparent reference to the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez asked jurors if they held any bias against the numerous police officers expected to testify in the case. "In light of recent developments in this country, is anyone up here anti-police?" he asked. "If you are, that's not fair to me and I need to know that." One black woman raised her hand, but was not immediately questioned further.
Security was tight in and around the courthouse, with mounted police and bicycle cops patrolling outside and additional security officers inside the courtroom and in the hallway leading to it. Before jury selection began, a police team with dogs searched the courtroom for bombs. Police said that was precautionary; they have received no threats against anyone involved in the case.