Murder trial to begin

Posted: Monday, December 04, 2000

Jury selection in the long-postponed murder trial of Ronald E. Smith and Rey Joel Soto began this morning in Juneau Superior Court. More than four dozen Juneau residents were summoned as potential jurors.

Smith, 33, and Soto, 20, were charged Jan. 27 with second-degree murder in the death of Kenneth Thomas, 36, who died as the result of a beating received in a robbery Jan. 25 near Willoughby Avenue. Thomas' brother, Alfred Torres, 27, was injured in the incident. Smith and Soto also are charged with first-degree assault in the beating of Torres as well as second-degree robbery.

The trial originally was scheduled for July, then postponed to October.

Smith was represented by Darrell Gardner of Anchorage, and Soto by Michael O'Brien. Assistant District Attorney Sue McLean represented the state.



When the case went on record at 8:40 a.m., McLean asked that Alaska State Troopers be allowed to use a metal detector to scan everyone entering the court room "for the protection of everyone involved."

"I am not going to do it with the jury today, but, if after this, you want to sit down and talk about it, I will," Judge Larry Weeks said.

Gardner objected to a metal detector being placed in front of the court room, saying he would rather have it in front of the building.

McLean asked if any of her colleagues had any objection to the use of the phrase "felony murder" to describe a death that occurred in the course of a felony in this case, robbery. None objected.

McLean asked for Jay Epstein and police officer Scott Erickson to be excused from jury duty "because they are already scheduled as witnesses." Weeks excused them.

Thirty-three other people were on the list of potential witnesses.

Thirteen jurors will be chosen for a trial that Weeks said he expected to take two weeks. Trial will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., "giving people an opportunity to do other things, especially at this time of year," Weeks said.

McLean asked each potential juror of what he or she thought about the current classification of marijuana as a controlled substance. Most said they classified it with alcohol. She also raised the issue of guilt by association. Could they convict someone of murder who conspired with others to commit a crime, who planned a robbery in advance even if that defendant did not actually pull the trigger?

One man firmly replied, "If they are in together, they should be hung together."

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