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Theater shooting judge denying late hardship dismissal requests from jurors

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A view inside Courtroom 201, where jury selection in the trial of Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes is to begin on Jan. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, pool)

A view inside Courtroom 201, where jury selection in the trial of Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes began on Jan. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, pool)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. – The Arapahoe County District Court trying the Aurora theater shooting case has retained around 100 jurors as of this week, but that number remains fluid, as previously retained jurors continue to call and write the court claiming undue hardships that, in their estimaton, should disqualify them from the jury pool.

District Court Judge Carlos Samour Jr. put his foot down regarding these jurors on Tuesday, saying it seems to him they’re experiencing second thoughts about serving on this jury, not undue hardship.

Prospective jurors, Samour claimed, are given ample opportunities throughout jury selection to claim an undue hardship.

In phase one of the selection process, there was a section of the jury questionnaire pertaining to hardship that many jurors seem to have skipped. In phase two, both Samour and the two sets of counsels have pressed each juror called for individual questioning about the issue of financial hardship, family responsibilities and prior commitments — among others maters — as they pertain to undue hardship.

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In fact, ever since Feb. 13, when the court spent over an hour individually questioning a juror on her bias in regard to the death penalty only to find she had a previously unmentioned financial hardship, Samour has taken special care to start off individual questioning sessions by talking to prospecive jurors about hardship.

The court recognizes that it’s a hardship for everyone to serve on a jury, Samour explains to thee jurors, especially for a trial expected to last four or five months like this one is. Hence the reasoning for the term “undue or unreasonable hardship,” which jurors have successfully defined as not being able to survive on the $50 a day the court would provide, being the lone caretaker for an elderly family member and a nonrefundable or extensive travel plan.

When pressed on the issue, over 100 jurors of the 300-plus called for individual questioning have told the court they would experience no undue hardship serving on this jury. However, with the next phase of jury selection – group questioning – coming up fast on April 13, some of those previously retained jurors are emailing the court, reporting hardships they now define as undue that they hadn’t reported before.

One such juror was retained earlier this month because she said she could still serve, even though she is getting married the week of April 21. She further stated she could cancel or reschedule her honeymoon to serve on the jury, as well.

Trying to accommodate her impending nuptials, the court went so far as to reschedule the trial’s opening statements to April 27, on the chance she was one of the final 24 — 12 jurors and 12 alternates — chosen to sit on this case.

However, the woman emailed the court this week and said she has had an unrelated and undue hardship arise, and therefore she can no longer serve. Her email was one of several similar juror messages Samour addressed Tuesday morning.

“It sounds to me like these jurors are getting cold feet, not suddenly experiencing undue hardship,” Samour said. “If they gave us prior assurances that they can serve, we have to rely on that.”

After making that statement, Samour said he would personally respond to several of these jurors to indicate that their requests for dismissal due to hardship would be denied, and that they would therefore be required to return for group questioning.

The bride-to-be isn’t the only prospective juror who has seemingly made overambitious statements about his or her willingness to serve. A juror retained earlier this March said he would be willing to get up at 3 a.m. every day to get his work done before going to court. One juror questioned Monday and ultimately released for inability to give the presumption of innocence said he would be willing to cancel his two week trip to see his son’s graduation.

Individual questioning will continue until April 10, at the end of which the judge is hoping to have retained 120 to 130 jurors for group questioning on April 13.

The trial’s opening statements are scheduled to begin on April 27.

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