22 excused from Ruiz case's jury pool

SPOKANE -- Twenty-two prospective jurors were excused Wednesday from sitting on Vicente Ruiz's third murder trial, including a woman who had brought her baby to court because she could not get child care.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers met with Judge Cameron Mitchell for about 21/2 hours to discuss the jurors' questionnaires. They came up with a list of people who require individual questioning and others who should be automatically dismissed because of conflicts with their work or personal lives.

One of those jurors was a woman who had came to court with her infant Tuesday, the first day of jury selection, and packed into a courtroom with 113 other people to hear Mitchell give details on the case. The woman had set a car seat down next to her chair at the end of the jury box and leaned over a number of times during the brief hearing to quiet the baby.

On Wednesday, the attorneys discussed the woman's questionnaire and commented on her note that she was the one with a baby in court. Courts typically ask people not to bring babies or young children in for regular proceedings.

"That was a bold move," said defense attorney Kevin Holt. He said he had no objection to letting the woman go so she can care for her child.

The trial is expected to last into 2011.

Ruiz, 46, is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

This is his third trial in the 1987 slayings at a Pasco auto body shop after the first two ended in mistrials. The case was moved to Spokane County because of extensive publicity in recent years.

Ruiz is accused of opening fire on a group of men inside Medina's Body Shop. The lone survivor told police that Ruiz was one of the shooters.

A second suspect, Pedro Mendez-Reyna, is doing life in prison for his role in the murders.

He is Ruiz's cousin and pointed the finger at Ruiz in a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty.

Court is in recess today for the Veterans Day holiday. Jury selection resumes Friday.

The judge and attorneys identified 52 people they think should come into court to answer some more questions about potential conflicts with their job, vacations or medical appointments.

The judge particularly plans to talk to one juror who wrote in a note: "I don't care what goes on in the courtroom. ... I could care less."