Llewelyn James was 16 when he was accused of killing six people in 2002 in Camden County, N.J. More than five years have passed, and he still awaits trial. Court officials recently tried for the second time in a month to seat a jury, says the Philadelphia Inquirer, only to go through 344 potential jurors without being able to get a panel of 12, plus alternates. The judge postponed the case until September.
The culprit was partly a new set of rules that the state Supreme Court approved for vetting jurors. The new standards require jurors to be asked certain open-ended questions designed “to elicit narrative responses” about legal points and larger societal issues. Generally, the jurors then are asked, “What makes you feel that way?” “We’re getting a lot of blank stares when that question is asked,” said acting Camden County Prosecutor Joshua Ottenberg. “It changes the way we do jury selection in New Jersey, and I don’t think people have gotten their collective minds around it yet. Then, to throw in the element of a six-homicide case.” One juror told the judge, “We know this is the first time this procedure is being used and you’re experimenting on us.” The new jury standards were developed after the Supreme Court put together a committee of judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors to study the jury selection process.