MONTGOMERY, Ala. — What's likely to be a weeklong process of selecting jurors for Alabama's gambling corruption retrial began Monday with a judge warning potential jurors not to let the death of a defendant have any impact on them.
Potential jurors also heard a who's who list of possible witnesses for the trial, including prominent Alabama politicians and country music entertainers.
The retrial was supposed to begin Jan. 30, but U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson delayed it one week when one of the defendants, former legislative bill writer Ray Crosby, was found dead at his Montgomery home Jan. 29.
Thompson told potential jurors Monday that Crosby, 63, died of natural causes. The judge did not mention that Crosby was accused of taking bribes from another defendant, casino owner Milton McGregor of Montgomery, or that the charge against Crosby was dropped because of his death.
The judge said only that Crosby's absence "must not have any impact on you or your deliberations in this case."
The six remaining defendants — McGregor, state Sen. Harri Anne Smith, former Sens. Larry Means and Jim Preuitt, casino lobbyist Tom Coker and casino spokesman Jay Walker — are accused of buying and selling votes for pro-gambling legislation.
The first trial in the case ended in August with no convictions, two defendants acquitted and the jury unable to agree on some charges.
During jury selection, Thompson asked potential jurors how many had heard or read about the case. The judge smiled when nearly everyone raised their hands.
Prosecutors did not speak to reporters, but defense attorneys said they are trying to determine if potential jurors have fixed opinions about the case.
"The standard for us is the same as before — fair and impartial," said Joe Espy, one of McGregor's attorneys.
Espy and other attorneys estimated jury selection would take four to five days.
The U.S. Justice Department has shaken up its Washington-based team for the retrial and has a new lead prosecutor, Kendall Day. When questioning potential jurors Monday, Day smiled more often and talked more casually than his predecessor, Justin Shur. Among the questions he asked potential jurors was whether they would have any problems with prosecutors who aren't from Alabama. None said they would.
The long list of potential witnesses read by defense attorneys included many Alabama politicians, including former Gov. Bob Riley, former Attorney General Troy King, former Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, former House Speaker Seth Hammett, House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh.
It also included disgraced Washington lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, who represented Choctaw Indian casinos in Mississippi that competed with Alabama's electronic bingo casinos. Country entertainers Randy Owen, George Jones and Lorrie Morgan, who were supporters of electronic bingo gambling in Alabama, also were on the list.
None testified during the first trial. Defense attorneys said they won't decide on their strategy for the retrial until prosecutors present their case.
Several lawmakers had been trying to pass a law to keep the state's electronic bingo casinos open after Riley organized a task force to raid and shut down the casinos, arguing machines inside were illegal slots. But the legislation died in April 2010 when the FBI said it was investigating the alleged vote-buying scheme.
McGregor's VictoryLand casino in Shorter is among those that were shut down.
Four people have pleaded guilty to charges resulting from the federal investigation, including Country Crossing casino developer Ronnie Gilley, two lobbyists and former state Rep. Terry Spicer. Spicer pleaded guilty in November to taking more than $100,000 in bribes from Gilley and one of his lobbyists.
All four may be called to testify for prosecutors, and that testimony could affect their sentences.