Several prospective jurors in the Franklin County trial of a Mexican man charged with murder were excused Monday because they expressed strong opinions on immigrants and cannot disregard his nationality.
Gregorio Luna Luna faced a courtroom packed with people who are being asked to hear testimony in the May 2010 case and decide if he killed his former girlfriend.
He is accused of forcing his way into Griselda Ocampo Meza's apartment in Pasco and stabbing her, less than a month after he was deported to his native country.
Luna Luna, 32, claims he acted in self-defense in the slaying.
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On the first day of the Franklin County Superior Court trial, clerks were instructed to call in jurors who didn't show so that lawyers would have a large enough pool to pick from. Once 140 people were assembled in the courtroom, they were asked to complete a 21-page juror questionnaire.
The thick document covered everything from their education and relationship status to views about the judicial system and knowledge of the case through media reports.
Two questions inside the packet may have struck a nerve with a number of potential jurors.
"Do you believe that immigrants are causing problems in America?"
Whether "yes" or "no," people were asked to comment briefly on their answer.
The second question informed prospective jurors that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Washington law, requires that Luna Luna receive a fair and impartial trial, even if he is a citizen of Mexico.
"Can you fairly and impartially try this case and base any decision you make on the evidence introduced during the trial and disregard the race and nationality of Mr. Luna Luna?"
Judge Robert Swisher -- in later going through the first 60 questionnaires with the lawyers -- noted that a handful of people commented on the culture of America. He automatically dismissed jurors who said they couldn't overlook Luna Luna's status.
Luna Luna is charged with aggravated first-degree murder. The charge includes allegations there was a protection order in place against Luna Luna at the time of the slaying and that there was a pattern of domestic violence in the relationship.
Ocampo Meza, 21, died in her North 22nd Avenue apartment May 24, 2010, before she could get to a hospital. The couple's 5-year-old son was rushed out of the home by Ocampo Meza's new boyfriend before she was stabbed once in the chest with a kitchen knife.
The trial is expected to last up to three weeks. Jury selection resumes this morning, with the court hoping to have opening statements Thursday.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org