Guns, racism and Donald Trump were discussed during jury selection Monday for the trial of a Topeka man charged in the Halloween night 2020 shootings of three youths he suspected of stealing Trump signs.
A jury was impaneled late Monday afternoon to try Robert Sinner Jr., 42, who is charged with three counts of aggravated battery and one count of discharging a weapon at an occupied vehicle with great bodily harm.
The trial is expected to last five days, said Shawnee County District Court Judge Brett Watson, who is presiding. Opening arguments are to be made Tuesday morning.
What is Robert Sinner Jr. accused of?
Authorities allege Sinner fired shots that struck three teenaged, Hispanic occupants of a car late Oct. 31, 2020, in North Topeka.
All three wounded teens survived. One — driver Jose Garcia, who was 17 at the time — was charged as a juvenile with aggravated assault. The Shawnee County District Attorney’s office subsequently dropped that charge.
Sinner said he fired only after Garcia tried to try to run down Sinner’s brother, Justin Sinner, then 34.
Court records said the Sinners suspected the youths had been responsible for the theft the previous evening from a neighbor of signs promoting what turned out to be Trump’s unsuccessful run that year for re-election to the presidency.
The property owners involved chose not to pursue charges related to the theft.
What steps were taken Monday to come up with a jury?
A pool of more than 60 jurors was present and available for Monday’s proceedings, Watson said.
Thirty-four were picked randomly to be considered for jury duty.
Ten of those were dismissed and replaced by other potential jurors, six because personal circumstances would have caused them great hardship and four for cause, because they were considered unable to be fair and impartial.
Each person who was dismissed was then replaced by someone else from the pool of prospective jurors.
Thirty-four jurors remained once Shawnee County deputy district attorney Steven Karrer and Sinner’s defense attorney, Kevin Shepherd, finished questioning potential jurors to determine if they should be removed for cause.
Twenty were then dismissed using peremptory challenges, leaving 14 on the jury. Attorneys use peremptory challenges to have proposed jurors removed without needing to give a reason.
The jury selected consists of six men and eight women, with all appearing to be white.
Two will be alternates, with those being randomly selected as alternates at the end of the trial, Watson said.
Guns, racism and media stories led to dismissal from jury consideration
Seven of the 44 people considered for jury duty said they had read or watched media reports about the case.
None of those ended up on the jury.
One of those seven, a white man, was dismissed for cause after he acknowledged the media accounts he’d seen left him feeling “prejudiced” and unable to render a fair and impartial verdict.
Others dismissed for cause were as follows:
• A Black man who gave Trump a score of “1” in terms of how much he likes him, gave law enforcement here an effectiveness score of “1” on a scale of 1 to 10 and said minority victims are usually treated worse in U.S. courts than white victims. “The Mexican guy’s going to get screwed,” he said. “Especially when it’s an all-white jury.”
• A white woman who said she was “really anti-gun” and described herself as being “possibly the only Democrat in my whole neighborhood.”
• A white man who was dismissed after coming to the bench to talk privately with Watson about why he didn’t think he could be fair and impartial. That discussion came at a point during jury selection when jurors were being asked about Trump.
Prospective jurors asked to say how much they liked Donald Trump 1-10
Karrer asked prospective jurors to tell him how much they like Trump on a score of 1 to 10. Prospective jurors who gave Trump the highest and lowest scores ended up being less likely than the others to end up on the jury.
Karrer also asked prospective jurors for their thoughts about vigilante justice and pranks. He asked if they’d ever played a prank, or been a victim of one.
One prospective juror, a white man, said pranks are played by friends on each other.
“It’s not a prank if it’s somebody you don’t know,” he said.
That man was removed soon afterward through a peremptory challenge.
Contact Tim Hrenchir at firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-213-5934.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Prospective jurors in Topeka trial asked about racism and Donald Trump