SPOKANE -- Fifteen Spokane County residents were seated Tuesday to review evidence in the 1987 shootings of six men inside a Pasco auto body shop.
Vicente Ruiz, 46, is on trial for the deaths of five of those men and the injuring of the sixth.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent a half-hour secretly choosing who they didn't want on the panel -- based on responses from questioning -- before ending up with eight women and seven men.
Three of them will serve as alternates if someone needs to leave the jury either during the anticipated six-week trial or in deliberations. Those three won't be notified of their alternate status until after the case wraps up.
Opening statements will be given today, followed by witness testimony.
Though it is a Franklin County Superior Court case, the trial is being held in a Spokane County courtroom because of extensive media coverage in the Tri-Cities throughout the case.
This is Ruiz's third trial after the first two ended in mistrials.
He is charged with five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.
The court spent four days on jury selection, reviewing responses on an eight-page questionnaire completed by each prospective juror and individually talking with people whose answers had raised concerns.
The court was left with 63 people Tuesday morning, having excused 51 others, the majority for vacation plans, work conflicts or strong opinions about the justice system and criminals.
Then on Tuesday as the jurors were gathered in the courtroom for group questioning, one man stood up and said he didn't think he could do it.
Judge Cameron Mitchell had explained to the jurors that it's their duty to determine the facts of the case and follow the law as instructed by the court. He asked if anyone had a problem doing that.
The man said: "I woke up in the middle of the night last night, tossed and turned, and I just can't do it. It's gone this far. I have an opinion, and I just can't do it. I thought I could, but I think I'm wasting the court's time."
A woman also raised her hand and said she had a conflict with serving on a trial that could last up to six weeks. She said she now has a job interview Friday afternoon and it's "very important for me."
The jury was taken out of the courtroom and the attorneys agreed to excuse the woman.
The man was then brought back in to talk one-on-one with the court about his comments.
"I've thought about and thought about it and formed an opinion. I don't want to hurt somebody. I want to be honest, and I don't think I should probably be here," he said. "If it's gone this far. ... I mean, I'm leaning towards somebody did it. I'm leaning towards the defendant there. Sorry."
Asked by the judge if he has difficulty giving Ruiz the presumption of innocence, the man reiterated that he could not go forward as a juror.
"I remember that drugs were involved. It was a drug deal gone bad and people were killed," he said. "And I couldn't serve on a jury with something like that. I have strong beliefs. I believe in the death penalty and I think we should use it more often."
He was removed from the jury pool, along with a man who'd realized he has a trip planned in December and had misread the trial dates on the jury questionnaire.
Also excused before selection of the final panel was a woman who had corresponded a couple of times with serial killer Robert Yates. Yates admitted to killing 13 people in a Spokane County case, then was convicted in Pierce County for two more killings and sentenced to death.
The woman said she came to know Yates because her brother had been in a cell next to him in the Spokane County jail. That was before Yates was convicted in the Spokane cases. Her brother believed Yates was innocent and encouraged his mother and sister to correspond with him, she said.
"My mom and I are the kind of people to trust anybody and listen to anybody, and we believed he needed a friend," said the woman.
She said she didn't consider Yates a friend, just someone who sent her letters stating "that he had done nothing wrong."
Attorneys asked to have her removed from the pool because the woman said she knows it is the prosecution's job to prove Ruiz is guilty, but also would expect the defense to prove he is innocent.
Ruiz faces life in prison, not execution, if convicted of the murders.
Franklin County Prosecutor Steve Lowe had to give assurances he would not seek the death penalty against Ruiz before the Mexican government would issue a provisional arrest warrant in August 2006.
Ruiz was arrested in Mexico in September 2006, then returned to the United States almost nine months later to face these charges.
Prosecutors allege he was one of two shooters inside Medina's Body Shop on Oct. 13, 1987. Ruiz's cousin is already serving a life sentence for his role in the mass murders.
Killed were: Misael Barajas, 22; Juan Antonio Lopez Garcia, 20; Eliceo Guzman Lamas, 20; and Rafael Parra Magallon, 22, all of Pasco, and Francisco Venegas Cortez, 21, of Kennewick.
Aldo Montes, 20, who also used the name Jesse Rocio, survived a gunshot wound to the stomach.
Ruiz has maintained his innocence and claims it is a case of mistaken identity, suggesting it could have been his brother who looks a lot like him.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; email@example.com