EL PASO, Texas–Luis Posada Carrile’s long-awaited, much delayed trial stuttered–almost literally–out of the gate Monday.
Judge Kathleen Cardone spent a long day bulk-questioning 130 potential jurors about everything from whether they’d read or heard anything about the case–42 had–to whether they, or their friends or family, had any connection with law enforcement. A surprising number–or perhaps not so surprising in a city that boasts one of the largest police and border patrol establishments in the United States—detailed their various family and social connections to law enforcement.
At least as many jurors responded to the judge’s question about whether they or anyone close to them had gone through the American naturalization process to become citizens, an especially common experience in this border town where 80 per cent of the population describes themselves as of Hispanic heritage.
Only one would-be juror said she didn’t really know “anything” about the state of relations between Cuba and the United States, but none claimed they had a strong opinion about Cuban-American relations.
Lawyers will use the potential jurors’ answers to the judge’s questions–along with material they’ve generated themselves–to help them choose what they hope will be the most sympathetic jury for their case.
The trial itself is expected to begin with opening arguments Tuesday and will probably last for four to six weeks.
Random notes from Day 1:
The day began with dueling demonstrations by pro- and anti-Posada factions. The two groups kept a respectful distance as they waved posters and chanted for the cameras in front of the courthouse building on East San Antonio Avenue. You can watch a video report on the anti-Posada demonstration at the website of the Nation Committee to Free the Five.
- Posada, with a retinue of bodyguards wearing weapons, arrived at the courthouse just after 8 a.m. and breezed past the protestors.
- During the trial, Posada and his entourage are staying at the nearby Camina Real hotel, which is where some of the organizers of the anti-Posada rally also bunked down Sunday night. Although there was apparently a mild confrontation at breakfast–someone yelled insults at Posada–Gloria La Riva, the director of the National Free the Five Committee, which organized the protest, insists the heckler “wasn’t one of ours.”
- Because of the size of the jury pool, Judge Cardone moved jury selection out of her usual courtroom into a larger one. Even that wasn’t large enough for all the first batch of 130 potential jurors, however, so additional chairs were brought in. Half a dozen reporters and a handful of interested spectators were shuffled off to an empty court room five floors below to watch the proceedings via closed circuit TV. But officials couldn’t get the audio to work properly. The reporters couldn’t see anything more revealing than a static wide shot of the front of the courtroom—which did not include a view of the defence table, for example, where Posada was seated—and the headache-inducing reverberation from a stuttering audio feed made it virtually impossible to decipher what anyone was saying. Once the jury is selected, proceedings will return to Judge Cardone’s regular court room for the actual trial.
- Although the Albert Armendariz, Sr., court house in downtown El Paso, where the case is being heard, is just seven months old and boasts large, airy court rooms, it is decidedly media and new-technology unfriendly. Visitors to the building, including reporters, aren’t allowed to bring cell phones, cameras, or recording devices into the building, let alone the courtroom. Most judges, Cardone among them, won’t even permit reporters to use laptops in their court rooms. To complicate matters, there is nopress room on the premises where the reporters can work.
- During one of the breaks in the day’s action, I noticed a court security officer reading—with what appeared to be interest—Luis Posada Carriles: Notes from a Tribunal, a pamphlet about a 2008 panel on the Posada case that anti-Posada demonstators were distributing yesterday.
- The El Paso Times asked its readers to weigh in on how best to deal with Luis Posada. 73.8 per cent of the 378 people who voted said Posada should be tried on terrorism charges; 13.22 per cent argued authorities should leave him alone—”he’s an old man—and 12.96 per cent declared him “innocent” of the charges against him.