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The difficult process of selecting an unbiased jury in a highly publicized case began Monday in U.S. District Court in Miami in the trial of 11 Miami police officers accused of conspiring to obstruct justice by planting guns and lying under oath about four police-involved shootings between November 1995 and June 1997. Some of the shooting victims were black while all of the officers on trial are Hispanic, so the racial composition of the jury is expected to become an early trial issue. “Part of your job as either a prosecutor or defense attorney is trying to determine what type of biases an individual juror may or may not have based on their answers to questions or their body language in response to certain questions,” said Steven E. Chaykin, a Miami lawyer and former federal prosecutor. To try to discover what makes jurors tick, more than 1,600 questionnaires were mailed to potential jurors in advance of the trial, which is expected to last up to five months. That process narrowed the pool of juror candidates to 211. Shortly after the first panel of about 40 multiethnic candidates was sworn in for further questioning Monday morning in the ornate Central Courtroom, Judge Alan S. Gold announced that the jury in the Miami cops case would not be sequestered. “It’s not going to happen,” said Gold. Lawyers involved in the case have said that picking a jury to hear the highly publicized case is expected to take at least two weeks. Police uniforms were virtually absent from the courtroom Monday morning — the same venue where Panamanian dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega was tried and convicted on drug charges a decade ago. The officer-defendants were dressed in jackets and ties. The only uniformed officer who appeared was a subpoenaed Miami police captain, Sebastian Aguirre. He asked prosecutors Allan B. Kaiser and Curtis B. Miner when he was required to appear. Besides the news media, only a handful of spectators showed up to watch the start of what defense attorney Richard Sharpstein called the most important part of the trial. Dozens of witnesses, including more than two dozen current and former Miami officers, are under subpoena to testify. Among the government’s star police witnesses will be former Miami narcotics officers John Mervolion and William Hames, both of whom have pleaded guilty and are cooperating. At the end of December, Judge Gold allowed the government to narrow the indictment slightly in response to defense objections by withdrawing the portion of the conspiracy charge that alleged the officers had violated the civil rights of victims. The defense had claimed that the civil rights allegations were improper because they’d been brought using so-called Garrity information — statements by the officers to investigators that were made under immunity. Gold made a point of telling the prospective jurors that because the officers are not charged with civil rights violations, their duty will not include determining whether “the shootings were justified.” Rather, they will be asked to determine whether there was a cover-up conspiracy. Even so, the Miami cops trial presents unique strategy challenges to both sides. “It’s always a very difficult case to prosecute law enforcement officers,” said Chaykin, a partner in the Miami office of Zuckerman Spaeder. “I think that society and most jurors will tend to give them greater latitude in their conduct in light of the risk associated with their jobs.” The defense will be challenged by the fundamental need to “attack the alleged victims in the case,” Chaykin said. “They’ll be looking to demonstrate that these alleged victims are not victims, but are in fact criminals.” THE BROWN SHOOTING The case broke open in March 2001 when a federal grand jury indicted five city officers for conspiring to fabricate evidence — a gun and cocaine — and lie to investigators about what happened on the night of March 12, 1996, when police machine gunned 72-year-old Richard O. Brown to death in his apartment in Miami’s Overtown area. Those officers are Sgt. Jose Acuna, Arturo Beguiristain, Ralph Fuentes, Eliezer Lopez and Alejandro Macias. Their attorneys, respectively, are Roy Kahn, Richard Sharpstein, Manuel Casabielle, Harry Solomon, and William D. Matthewman, all of Miami. Those officers and others raided Brown’s second-floor apartment at 1344 N.W. Seventh Court about 10:30 p.m. They were serving a search warrant obtained after officers told a judge that they’d seen Brown sell a small amount of cocaine earlier in the day. Members of the SWAT team and the now disbanded Street Narcotics Unit who were serving a search warrant opened fire as they entered the cramped one-bedroom apartment. They said they fired in response to a pair of shots fired first by Brown. In all, six officers armed with submachine guns and automatic pistols fired 122 shots — the most ever fired by city officers. Brown, a recent widower with no criminal record, was struck nine times in the neck, shoulder, abdomen, testicles, legs and left arm and hand. His 14-year-old daughter, Janeka, escaped injury by cowering in the bathroom between the toilet and the tub as slugs crashed around her. During the raid, at her father’s instruction, Janeka Brown twice called 911 to report that someone was breaking into their home. City homicide detectives, the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, an inquest judge, an internal affairs inquiry and a police shooting review board later cleared the officers involved in the raid of wrongdoing. But the case wouldn’t go away. In 1997, Janeka Brown’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attorney, Barbara Heyer, filed a federal civil rights and wrongful-death lawsuit against the Miami police department and several officers, including some who are now on trial. The suit cited a variety of inconsistencies in the police version of events, particularly with regard to the .38 revolver that police said they found in Brown’s hand as he lay dead in the closet and some cocaine that police said had been tossed from Brown’s apartment during the raid. The suit also alleged widespread illegality, cover-up and malfeasance within the Miami Police Department. In January 2000, Miami agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle the suit on the eve of trial. News of the settlement and further reporting about the case by the Miami Daily Business Review later prompted then-U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis to order the federal investigation that led to the March 2001 indictment. The Review subsequently reported that the investigation into Brown’s death was marred by unasked questions, questionable judgments, misrepresentations, procedural lapses and apparent favoritism that served to obstruct the search for the truth. For example, the Miami police homicide investigation ignored important civilian witnesses, overlooked clues and failed to identify or resolve contradictions between police testimony and the physical evidence that challenged the officers’ version of events. At least three neighbors in Brown’s apartment house — Lottie Bea Davis, Marie Menard and Reatha Forbes — disputed police statements that the officers clearly identified themselves before battering down Brown’s metal front door. At least two of those women are expected to testify at trial. In addition, detectives chose not to conduct any forensic examination of telltale bullet patterns or bloodstains to illustrate what happened when Brown was shot. For example, the raiding officers said they shot Brown after he popped out from behind his bedroom door and squeezed off two shots at them. Police photographs and a videotape of bullet holes and bloodstains on the doors, walls and ceiling, however, indicated instead that Brown was shot while standing behind the closed bedroom door. According to court filings, that was the later finding of a government expert who specializes in crime scene reconstruction, Marilyn T. Miller, a scientist from Henry Lee Institute of Forensic Science at the University of New Haven, Conn. OTHER SUSPECT SHOOTINGS With the officers in the Brown case indicted, the U.S. Attorney’s Office turned its attention to other police shootings in which officers had been suspected of wrongdoing. In September 2001, the grand jury issued a superseding conspiracy and cover-up indictment that charged six more officers involved in three other police shootings. Those three shootings were: � The November 1995 killings of alleged robbers Derrick Wiltshire and Antonio Young underneath I-395 in downtown Miami. Defendants in that case are Beguiristain, Jorge Garcia, Israel “Izzy” Gonzalez, Jose “Pepe” Quintero and terminated officer Jesus “Jesse” Aguero. Officers Mervolion and Hames, who have pleaded guilty and are cooperating, also were involved that night. � The April 1996 shooting at suspected purse-snatcher Steven Carter involving officer Aguero and Sgt. Acuna. � The June 1997 shooting of drifter Daniel Hoban in Coconut Grove, Fla., by Officer Jorge Castello. Besides Castello, defendants include Officers Oscar Ronda, Aguero and Beguiristain. Aguero, Garcia, Gonzalez, Quintero, Castello and Ronda are represented, respectively, by Hugo Rodriguez, John William Thornton Jr., Jay Moskowitz, Sam J. Rabin, Richard Sharpstein and Albert Levin, all of Miami. “It was the purpose and object of this conspiracy that the defendants and their co-conspirators would seize guns from people in the city of Miami and would plant such guns at the scene of police-involved shootings, make false and misleading statements, or engage in other misleading conduct to justify their actions,” said the 55-count indictment. Even before the first witness is sworn, the Miami cops case has already had a major impact on the city and its police department, which got a new chief last week, John Timoney. Last March, the Department of Justice announced that it would conduct a detailed civil investigation of the department’s “patterns and practices.” The probe, similar to one that resulted in widespread police reforms in Los Angeles two years ago, will focus on identifying and fixing systemic problems. In November, Miami voters created a civilian investigative panel armed with subpoena power to oversee the police.

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