Roeder trial's private jury questioning concerns experts

The Wichita EagleJanuary 15, 2010 

Privacy doesn't guarantee honesty, a jury expert said.

Dennis Elias, a psychologist who specializes in jury research, was asked about a judge's decision to question jurors in private about sensitive issues in the first-degree murder trial of Scott Roeder.

Roeder, 51, is charged with killing Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller in the doctor's church on May 31. Lawyers pressed Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert to question jurors about issues such as their views on abortion in closed sessions, claiming it would increase honesty and juror candor.

But research shows jurors are equally capable of misleading lawyers whether being questioned in public or in private, Elias said.

"Jurors may feel constrained by public forum or pressured by direct presence of judge and counsel behind closed doors," said Elias, senior consultant and president of Litigation Strategies, Inc., of Phoenix, Ariz.

Elias said pretrial questionnaires, which jurors filled out last week in Roeder's case, tend to provide more reliable responses, research shows.

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