Jury selected in Ruiz murder trial

PASCO -- It took three weeks, but attorneys finally wrapped up jury selection Monday afternoon and chose nine women and five men to hear the 22-year-old murder case against Vicente Ruiz.

Jurors won't be sworn in until this afternoon. Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell agreed to wait after Ruiz's attorneys argued it could prejudice their motion before the Washington state Court of Appeals.

The defense claims the entire jury pool is tainted and wants the Franklin County jury scrapped so the trial can start anew in another county. Mitchell already has ruled he believes the jurors can be fair and impartial after the attorneys conducted exhaustive interviews of each jury candidate.

Defense lawyers continue to disagree, and on Monday learned that their request had been granted for an emergency review by the appellate court.

Arguments will be heard at 9:30 a.m. today by appeals court Commissioner Joyce J. McCown, who is based in Spokane. Attorneys plan to conduct the hearing via speakerphone, which reportedly will be done in a Franklin County courtroom.

McCown can deny the motion for discretionary review or agree to it. In that case she'd request a transcript of all proceedings since April 19 and either put the trial on hold until a decision is released or have the trial go forward while the higher court looks into the issue.

Opening statements will be given about 1 p.m. today.

Ruiz, 45, is charged in Franklin County Superior Court for the 1987 shootings at Medina's Body Shop in Pasco. Prosecutors allege he and his cousin killed five men and wounded a sixth.

Ruiz is on trial for five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

The trial started April 19 with 162 potential jurors, a majority of whom were released over the past few weeks because of scheduling conflicts, financial hardship, too much knowledge about the case or conversations that took place in both the courtroom and the jury room.

Four jurors were immediately excused Monday morning for medical problems and newly planned trips. One woman was dismissed "out of an abundance of caution" because it wasn't clear if she was a United States citizen, a requirement for jury duty.

Then after Mitchell notified the remaining 39 jurors that the trial could last into mid-June, five more asked to be let go because of conflicts with work or child care.

Attorneys spent most of Monday talking to the remaining 34 potential jurors, asking if they expect people to have the "exact same recollection" of an event that happened more than 20 years ago or if they would anticipate "differing opinions about minor details."

Defense attorneys asked if jurors thought investigators could get confused when looking for multiple men, all with an identical Hispanic surname. They also noted being "concerned about culture in this case" and talked about the significance of quinceaeras in the Latino culture.

Ruiz's lawyers have suggested the shooter may have been a brother, who is said to be nearly identical in appearance, and claim their client was in Mexico preparing for his sister's coming-of-age ceremony at the time of the killings.

A cousin, Pedro Mendez-Reyna, already was convicted for his role in the shootings and is serving a life sentence.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531;