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Fayette grand jury seated

| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, 1:56 p.m.

An investigating grand jury has been seated in Fayette County.

The panel of 23 main jurors and 15 alternates was selected from among 80 potential jurors who appeared Tuesday in Uniontown before Judge Steve Leskinen for the jury-selection process, said District Attorney Jack Heneks.

Heneks declined further comment because the grand jury's proceedings are secret.

Jurors are expected to meet at least twice monthly over the next 18 months to assist with investigations into crimes ranging from election fraud to cold-case homicides.

As they left the courtroom, several jurors said they were asked a number of personal questions and whether they would be available to serve for the next 18 months. They declined to identify themselves.

Though 300 people were summoned for jury selection, only 80 appeared, said Court Administrator Karen Kuhns. Eighty-seven were excused in advance for legitimate reasons, she said, but 133 simply failed to appear.

Those who failed to appear will be sent letters advising them to call Kuhns' office or risk being held in contempt of court. If they fail to respond, sheriff's deputies will be sent to find them, she said.

Kuhns said the number of no-shows for the grand jury was greater than the courts typically see when seeking to empanel juries. For example, she said, 50 to 60 of 500 jurors who are summoned for criminal trials fail to appear.

Earlier this year, Heneks said he needs a grand jury's powers to subpoena witnesses and grant immunity to help solve a number of alleged crimes, including voter fraud, unsolved homicides, drug trafficking, copper wire thefts, robberies, burglaries, and ATV and auto thefts.

Witnesses who appear before the grand jury will have to testify under oath, increasing the likelihood they will provide truthful information police need to further their investigations, he previously said.

According to a petition Heneks filed in support of convening the grand jury, thieves who steal Verizonā€˜s overhead copper wire sell it to scrap yards and use the cash to commit other crimes, including drug trafficking.

The allegations of voter fraud were brought to Heneks' attention by the election board and include concerns about absentee ballots in Bullskin, signatures on nominating petitions for failed state representative candidate Michael Cavanagh, and Cavanagh's allegations that state Rep. Tim Mahoney improperly signed documents attesting to signatures on petitions for a countywide referendum on consolidating school districts.

The jury can recommend that criminal charges be filed.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at lzemba@tribweb.com or 412-601-2166.

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