Work has started on finding a jury for the trial of a man accused of killing an 18-year-old Dallas woman in 2015.
About 3,000 Dallas County residents will be called in and fill out questionnaires so prosecutors and lawyers can find 12 people in the death penalty case of Antonio Cochran. He’s accused of stabbing Zoe Hastings to death and dumping her body in the minivan she was driving in a creek after kidnapping her from an East Dallas Walgreens in Oct. 2015.
The trial is set to start in late October, but to get there the jury selection process is starting four months out.
The goal of the 19 page, 200-plus question document is to help prosecutors and defense attorneys know who the jurors are. Nearly a quarter of the questions are about potential jurors’ views on capital punishment.
Jury consultant Kacy Miller analyzed the questionnaire.
“The state is looking for jurors who are willing to give the death penalty,” Miller said. “The defense also needs jurors who are willing to give the death penalty -- but maybe just not as frequently.”
Recent Dallas County juryies have said no to the death penalty for quadruple murderer defendant Erbie Bowser and another convicted killer, Juan Andrade. Both juries in those cases opted for life in prison without parole.
When there is a guilty verdict in a death penalty case jurors must then answer two questions: Is the person a continuing threat to society? Is there no reason worth saving their life?
Heath Harris, former First Assistant Dallas County D.A. who is now in private practice, has tried death penalty cases from both the prosecution and defense table.
“Seems like there’s an increase in whether people feel like the death penalty is a deterrent,” Harris said.
But the death penalty and how it's administered has also itself, seemingly, been on trial of late.
Some courts are debating whether its practice is humane. Plus, several exonerations across the country - including death row inmates – are also impacting potential jurors and making it more difficult to get a unanimous death penalty verdict.
“It’s absolutely more difficult today,” said attorney Robert Udashen. “When I first started practicing law police and prosecutors always wore the white hats and juries trusted anything prosecutors and police officers said.”
Udashen says the overall climate change towards police grand juries and prosecutors has caused jurors to think long and hard before voting yes to the ultimate punishment – death.