ALLEN COUNTY – Jurors in the fatal drunk driving trial of Indianapolis Metropolitan police officer David Bisard filled out a 16-page juror questionnaire with 88 questions to determine their suitability to serve on the panel. At the end of the first session, ten jurors had been selected. The trial will need 16 total.
The case against the officer accused of driving drunk and causing the death of motorcyclist Eric Wells on Aug. 6, 2010, was moved to Fort Wayne due to extensive pretrial publicity in the Indianapolis area.
Page 15 of the questionnaire lays out the basic charges against Bisard followed by questions such as, “Have you heard anything about a case like this?
And, after informing the potential jurors of the expected two- to four-week length of the trial, the questionnaire asks, “Are there any reasons…that you might not be able to serve?”
Early questions focus on the candidate’s media viewing and reading habits: “Do you regularly receive information about news in the City of Indianapolis, Indiana?” Approximately 300 Allen County residents were summoned on Columbus Day to be vetted for the jury.
The form asks about the candidates’ interest in following crime stories in the media and their opinions of the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The Court also advised the potential jurors that they will be precluded from researching the case on the internet or in other media if they are chose to sit in the jury box.
The questionnaire goes on to ask typical boilerplate questions such as the candidate’s history with crime, courts or previous jury service, including, “Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?”
“What do you see as the role of police officers?” asks question 22C, followed by, “Should police officers be held to a different standard of conduct than others?” Another question asks “What three adjectives would you use to describe police officers?”
The form also seeks information regarding the potential juror’s biographical history as well as drug and alcohol abuse history of themselves or relatives. The candidate’s familiarity with motorcycles and traffic accidents is also explored.
Judge John Surbeck of Allen Superior Court told attorneys for both sides at a previous hearing that he expected to examine about 140 jurors to empanel a jury by Tuesday evening with opening statements set for Wednesday morning.
The trial may last four weeks.
At 10:11 a.m., the first 46 potential jurors filed into the ornate courtroom on the third floor of the Allen County courthouse. Surbeck addressed the candidates, reminding them that jury service is a privilege while apologizing for the inconvenience.
“We are here in the matter of the State of Indiana versus David Bisard,” the judge announced as the officer appeared in court for the first time in a dark suit.
Earlier, Bisard was walked through a basement hallway into the courthouse before TV cameras, clad in a jail jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists and ankles.
Chief Marion County Trial Deputy Denise Robinson introduced herself to the gallery as did defense attorney John Kautzman.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is our client, Mr. David Bisard,” said Kautzman.
“Good morning,” the humbled officer addressed the candidates.
Six potential jurors were called to fill the jury box as Robinson began her inquiry known as voir dire.
She immediately attempted to establish a common frame of reference with the candidates who may be new to the courtroom experience.
“Law and Order is not something I watch,” said Robinson, referring to the widely viewed television show, “because this is what I do.”
Robinson elicited a chuckle from the courtroom.
The prosecutor reminded the potential jurors that Bisard is presumed innocent before the trial and asked the group that if they were to take a vote right now, “how would they vote on Bisard’s legal status?”
“Not guilty,” the potential jurors agreed.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry watched from the second row of the gallery, one row in front of the family of Eric Wells.
Robinson, while asking about media exposure to the case, told potential jurors that while the press has a job to do, “it doesn’t always get things right.”
The deputy prosecutor then closed out her half hour of questions and presentation by telling candidates that she grew up in Fort Wayne and graduated from Northrup High School.
Defense attorney John Kautzman asked potential jurors if they held a pretrial bias against his client simply because he had been criminally charged. Two women answered that they assumed there had been wrongdoing simply based on the charges.
Robert Gevers, Kautzman’s Fort Wayne-based co-counsel, reminded the assembled panel that the defense does not have an obligation to present evidence, and that the weight of the criminal case rests with the prosecution.
Kautzman asked the candidates if they had ever been wrongly accused and what had been the emotional experience.
“Did it put you on the defensive?” he asked, possibly foretelling the explanation of his client’s comments after the crash.
The five women and one man seated in the jury box uniformly agreed that police officers are held to a higher professional standard, though the legal standards are the same as for the general public.
For more than three years, Kautzman has argued the lab test that determined his client was at more than two times the legal limit for alcohol intoxication was flawed and the blood sample evidence was mishandled.
He asked the potential jurors if they’ve ever thought laboratory results could be wrong or if they had faith in the sanctity of police property rooms to maintain evidence free from tampering.
“There is no doubt in the world that this is a terribly tragic situation,” said Kautzman, who reminded the panel that the trial was not to rubber stamp Bisard’s guilt in what very well may have been an accident.
Kautzman alluded that while Bisard might have been involved in a tragedy, the accident might not have been his fault.
The defense has told Fox 59 News that it has information that the brakes on Bisard’s 2005 Ford Crown Victoria may have failed as he slammed into a trio of motorcyclists at 73 miles per hour on East 56th Street.
After the first panel of potential jurors was excused, both sides met to discuss striking candidates as Bisard conversed with his defense team and offered his opinion.
The attorneys then approached the bench and explained to the judge their rationale for striking some potential candidates, and disputed each other’s strikes.
Surbeck told Kautzman he would make a one-time exception to re-question a potential juror who answered his questionnaire that he had doubts about the fairness of police officers.
The man answered that he could still be a fair and impartial juror.
The first session yielded three jurors.