Hutaree Jury Selection Continues with Oddity – and a Bit of Comedy

Detroit Free Press -
By Tresa Baldas

Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

The defense and prosecution in the Hutaree militia case are stumped over a novel issue that surfaced during jury selection Thursday: One of the potential jurors was once represented by a defense lawyer in the case.

The juror - who was placed in the jury pool anyway - is a retired Detroit police officer who years ago fired her weapon at a suspect who robbed her on her way to work.

The lawyer who helped her prepare a statement for internal affairs was Michael Rataj, who is representing Tina Stone - one of the seven Hutaree suspects charged with plotting a violent overthrow of the government that involved killing a police officer and bombing a funeral.

"In 23 years, I've never had this come up," said Rataj, who quickly recognized the juror and reported it to the judge and prosecution.

The juror said she saw no conflict of interest and wouldn't favor the defense because of her brief encounter with Rataj.

Neither side objected, although the defense team said it would research the issue to make sure no legal, professional or ethical boundaries get crossed.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts cautioned both sides to make sure nothing backfires should she end up on the final jury panel.

Jury selection continues today in U.S. District Court in Detroit. So far, 44 people have been selected. The goal is to reach 50 by today, and then dwindle it down to the final 12 jurors and four alternates on Monday.

The prosecution has said it has evidence the defendants were armed and ready to do great harm; the defense has argued that the defendants were engaged in tough talk but never had any real plans to harm anyone.

Most of the jurors picked so far have indicated that they don't know what militias are, much less have opinions about them. One woman said she associated militias with Timothy McVeigh. Another said he thought the defendants "are kind of crazy."

Among those selected Thursday were an Army serviceman who served in Afghanistan, a nurse, two women with attention deficit disorder, and several gun owners, including a scientist and former military police officer who served during the Vietnam War and later became involved in several war protests.

That juror stole the show Thursday with his quirky personality and life experiences. He said he called the authorities once because he felt a photographer was harassing a swan. When a defense lawyer asked him what branch of the military he was involved with, the juror responded:

"The superior force. The Marines, sir."