Play some mood music (420 K)
In the interim between arrest and trial, the prosecutor's office ensured that they would be ready to win a conviction. They interviewed all the witnesses that they intended to call many times, attempting to anticipate weak points that would be brought out on cross examination. They also reviewed their own knowledge of the laws relating to this case to ensure that they would not be thrown off by some technicality or obscure legal ruling.
The voir dire was one of the most important pretrial sessions; during this hearing, the jurors that would decide the fate of Assemblyman Donald Richards would be chosen. Approximately fifty people were seated in the benches reaching from the door to the bar. Walking down the aisle, Evans seated himself at the table closest to the jury box, across from defense attorney Bill Mitchell. They had previously submitted to the judge the questions that they would like put to the jurors in order to minimize potential bias. When the hearing started, the court's bailiff escorted the first fourteen people in the benches to the jury box. A panel of fourteen jurors was to be selected; at the end of the trial, two jurors will be removed as "alternates" The alternates are not specifically designated as such beforehand to ensure that they pay attention during the trial; using this system, any two people on the jury could be excused from returning a verdict.
Most of the questions were standard; the jurors were asked if they knew, on a personal or professional basis, any of the attorneys, witnesses or other parties directly involved in the case. Inquiries were made as to past criminal records, or intense feelings towards law enforcement. None of the jurors had answers that caused their removal. The prosecutor had the judge ask them whether or not their political leanings would play a role in their decision. Again, none of the jurors raised their hands.
There are two ways that a juror might be removed. The attorney might make a challenge for cause , or exercise a pre-emptory challenge. With a challenge for cause (these are unlimited), the attorney is forced to show that the juror has a definite bias. The pre-emptory challenges (of which each side only has a limited number) can be used to have any of the jurors removed. This allows the lawyers to eliminate jurors who give them "a bad feeling." As Evans and Mitchell both began exercising their pre-emptory challenges, excused jurors were replaced with the people sitting in the benches. When the jury was satisfactory to both sides, the judge thanked everyone who participated, and left the chamber. The next time that the attorneys would see each other would be the day of the trial.
Play more mood music (593 K)
On the trial's first day, the stately courtroom had no empty seats. Everyone seemed to be looking at the defendent, clad in an expensive suit and surrounded by three high-powered attorneys. The pair of prosecutors had briefcases scattered all over their table, overflowing with affidavits, files, and photos. The defense team had two laptop computers to aid them in their "quest for justice." The hum in the courtroom subsided as the clerk stood up.
"All rise, court is now in session... The Honorable Kevin Williams presiding."
Everyone stood up as the imposing, gray-haired man in the black robe entered from a side doorway. He strode up to the majestic judge's bench, and sat down.
"Be seated." he ordered.
"Case number 96-344042, State of New Jersey v. the Honorable Donald Richards." the clerk read before sitting down.
"Are counsel ready to proceed?" asked the judge. When attorneys from both sides stood and affirmed that they were, he indicated that the prosecution should begin with its opening statement. The prosecutor walked around to the front of his table, addressed the judge, and then the jury.
"Your Honor, members of the jury. My name is Robert Evans, and along with my assistant Trisha Williams, I will be representing the people of the State of New Jersey in the prosecution of Donald Richards for kidnapping, accepting a bribe, and first degree murder. A public trust is one of the most important gifts that we, as Americans, can bestow upon a citizen. By electing a person to public office, we expect that they will act in our best interests, and hold themselves to the highest standards of integrity. As the facts that you hear over the next few days will clearly show, the defendent, Assemblyman Donald Richards, did not even hold himself to the lowest standards of honesty and decency. He accepted illegal campaign contributions from local corporations and companies. When one of his workers, twenty-two year old Juliann Boyle, discovered this, he immediately fired her. Afraid that she might reveal his secret to the public, he invited her out to dinner, and abducted her against her will. Once she was in his power, he wrapped a piece of cord around her neck and tightened it, despite her desperate please for mercy, until she couldn't breathe. He then flung her limp body to the ground, and shot her, repeatedly in cold blood, with his gun, which he disposed of. He left her for dead along a dusty, lonely road. Members of the jury, Donald Richards sits here before you today hiding behind your very trust which he betrayed. For the sake of the memory of Juliann Boyle, find him guilty of the crimes he committed."
As the prosecutor returned to his seat, the lead defense attorney rose to tell his side of the story. "Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of jury. I am Bill Mitchell. My associates, Todd Kerning and Paul Weber, will be representing Assemblyman Donald Richards against these outlandish charges. We've heard about the tragedy of Juliann Boyle's death. She was strangled and shot. Yet the prosecution does not offer the cord that my client allegedly used. And the prosecution does not offer the gun that my client allegedly fired. In short, the prosecution is trying to coerce you into using your anger and emotion over the untimely death of a young, innocent girl, to convict the Assemblyman. Donald has done nothing but good for the people of this legislative district throughout his illustrious seventeen year career. You will hear of his good character, and you will also hear the conspicuous silence of any direct evidence linking my client to the murder. The prosecution has the burden to prove to you beyond any reasonable doubt that my client is guilty. The lack of evidence that will be presented before you over the next week will more than create that doubt in your minds, and you will be left with no alternative but a verdict of not guilty. Thank you."
Return to table of contents
Return to home page
Graphical bars used with permission and taken from the CD-ROM accompanying the Que Corporation book Using HTML by Tom Savola.
The music, along with the picture of the "courthouse", is used with permission and taken from the Americana CD-ROM.
The jury questionnaire is a document in the public domain and not reproduced for criminal purposes.