Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Six men and six women picked for Selena jury

By PATTY REINERT Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

9:21 PM 10/10/1995

After two days of questioning that was often geared toward unearthing racial or ethnic bias, lawyers seated a jury of six men and six women in the Selena murder trial Tuesday. Opening statements are set to begin this morning, the first day members of the public will be allowed inside the courtroom. Hopeful spectators are expected to gather at the Family Law Center near the courthouse early.

At 7:30 a.m., the court staff will hand out tickets, and a drawing is scheduled for 20 minutes later. Only 25 members of the public will receive courtroom passes for the day. Prosecutors said they expect to call 30 to 40 witnesses in the trial and estimated their side of the case will take five to seven days. Defense lawyers would not say whether they will present evidence or whether defendant Yolanda Saldivar will ever take the stand. Saldivar, 35, is accused in the March 31 shooting death of Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla Perez outside a Corpus Christi motel.

Saldivar, who founded the star's fan club and managed her businesses, signed a confession admitting she shot the 23-year-old singer but now says it was an accident. The jury that will hear the evidence was seated Tuesday evening. It includes seven Anglos, four Hispanics and one African-American. State District Judge Mike Westergren decided late in the day not to seat two alternates, saying jury selection had dragged on too long. While both sides in the case said they were satisfied with the 12 jurors, Saldivar's lawyers said they would have liked more blacks on the panel. They accused the prosecution team of using eight of its 11 strikes to eliminate blacks. "We suspect they want African-Americans off this jury," said Doug Tinker, a Corpus Christi attorney appointed to represent Saldivar. "Minorities generally have a better view of what law enforcement is like."

Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez insisted his team did not use race or ethnicity as a criterion or tailor questions to try to eliminate minorities. "We don't look at race," he said. "We look at people's responses and whether we think they are sincere and will be good jurors. I can tell you right now, it is news to me that we have four Hispanics on the jury." After narrowing down the jury pool Monday, lawyers began Tuesday's selection with 64 prospective jurors. Houston lawyer Fred Hagans, who is assisting the defense for free, took over questioning from Tinker, appearing to direct different questions to different jurors based on race. During the morning session, he asked all African-Americans who were questioned about their views on the O.J. Simpson verdict and whether they thought there should be a change in the American criminal justice system as a result of it.

All said no. Hagans also asked several Hispanics in the pool whether they would feel any "social pressure" to return a verdict their community wanted. Each answered no. Later, Hagan said race played no role in the selection and denied that he asked nearly every Hispanic that question. Both sides agreed that jury selection dragged on longer than expected but said they worked as fast as they could.

Westergren picked up the pace Tuesday morning, timing attorneys with a small alarm clock, which he repeatedly set at five-minute intervals to keep the lawyers moving. Today's proceedings are expected to begin with a short hearing without the jury to decide whether prosecutors will be allowed to use evidence of a conversation Saldivar had with a police officer the night of the shooting.

Saldivar kept police at bay for 9 1/2hours that night, holed up in a pickup in the motel parking lot and threatening suicide. Tinker has asked that the judge keep the conversation out of the trial because he was informed of it too late.