Constitutional Law

Judge's Wily Secret Jury Selection in High-Profile Child-Murder Case Wins Admiration and Criticism

  • Print.

Faced with the potential expense and inconvenience of having to look far afield for potential jurors unfamiliar with a high-profile child-murder case, a Pennsylvania judge came up with an innovative solution that experts say could very well be legal.

Judge John S. Kennedy kept the doors to his York County courtroom open to the public on Tuesday while selecting a jury for the murder trial of a Carroll Township couple accused of killing the 7-year-old boy they adopted from Russia. But by getting the lawyers in the case to agree to keep the jury selection secret and leaving the court clerk’s office in the dark about the scheduled Sept. 6 trial for Michael and Nanette Craver, the judge managed to keep news media unaware of the otherwise very coverage-worthy event until after it was over, reports the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

There’s no court rule in the state about what a judge must do to inform the public of a pending trial or jury selection, so Kennedy’s approach, which also included leaving the trial schedule off of the dockets on which it would ordinarily be included, was presumably legal, the newspaper explains. However, such a rule might now be adopted, and at least one media trade association argues that because the approach effectively prevented the media from covering jury selection, it violated constitutional guarantees of a public trial.

“This was a very clever trick or very clever solution, depending on your point of view,” law professor Wesley Oliver of Widener University tells the Patriot-News. “The media doesn’t miss out on covering the trial, only the first day. Once the jury is impaneled, he can order them not to look at the coverage.”

Some members of the public attended the jury selection, according to the judge. However, by avoiding the standard pre-jury-selection local news coverage it was much easier to find potential jurors who remembered little about prior coverage of the case, reports the York Daily Record.

“We know when there is a high-profile case on the docket, the Sunday before jury selection there is usually a big story in the Sunday News. That makes it difficult sometimes to find jurors,” the judge said, adding: “Had there been a major article in the Sunday paper, we probably would not have gotten a jury,”

Earlier articles in the Patriot-News and the York Dispatch detail the case against the couple.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.