The difficulty of finding jurors unfamiliar with former White House aide Oliver North and the Iran-Contra scandal has become apparent as the judge lashed out at television coverage of the trial.
U.S. Judge Gerhard Gesell, who has been able to find just 19 acceptable jurors so far, on Wednesday sharply criticized television coverage of the trial's opening for making it even more difficult to find impartial jurors.Jury selection moved ahead at a slow but deliberate pace Thursday, the third day of Oliver North's Iran-Contra trial, and three more people joined the final pool from which 12 jurors ultimately will be selected.
Since proceedings opened Tuesday, three men and 16 women have been chosen for the jury pool that will eventually number 50, perhaps by Monday. Then, defense and prosecution lawyers will settle on 12 jurors and six alternates.
When the jury is empaneled, which may take another week, lead prosecutor John Keker will formally present the case against North, the former National Security Council aide to President Reagan.
North, a 45-year-old retired Marine colonel, faces 12 federal felony charges arising from the Iran-Contra scandal, including lying to Congress, destroying documents and accepting an illegal gratuity. If convicted on all charges, he could be sentenced to 60 years in prison and $3 million in fines.
The process of picking a jury is painstakingly slow; to lighten the mood Thursday, Keker cheerily greeted one potential juror, "Happy Groundhog's Day."
Judge Gesell is dismissing from potential jury duty anyone who recalls reading about, listening to or watching North's 1987 televised testimony to Congress.
North was given limited immunity to testify before two select committees investigating the U.S. arms sales to Iran and the diversion of sales profits to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. The immunity protects his statements from being used against him at his trial.
That protection also extends to jurors' memories, which is forcing Gesell to seek potential jurors who do not recall North's appearance.