Nine jurors selected for Rosfeld trial, race issues arise
HARRISBURG — Nine jurors from Dauphin County were selected Tuesday in the first day of jury selection in the homicide case against former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld.
Three men and six women were among those chosen out of the 24 interviewed by the time court recessed for the day about 4:20 p.m. Three are black. There must be 12 jurors and four alternates to complete the selection process.
The trial in the June 19 killing of 17-year-old Antwon Rose is set to begin March 19 in Allegheny County. Rose, who was black, fled a felony traffic stop by Rosfeld, who is white.
The selection process halted about 3 p.m. when Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Fodi challenged defense attorney Patrick Thomassey’s attempt to dismiss a black woman as a potential juror.
Thomassey had asked the 55-year-old woman what neighborhood she lived in. She referred to a neighborhood in Harrisburg’s inner city. Thomassey said he requested to remove the juror because “the pressure on her would be tremendous” due to the community she lives in.
Chief Trial Deputy District Attorney Daniel Fitzsimmons said there was no evidence “of anything like that.”
During jury selection, each side gets seven challenges, generally called strikes, which can be used to dismiss a potential juror without giving a reason. A Batson Challenge is when one side objects to the validity of a strike, alleging it’s based on race, ethnicity or sex.
Fodi argued that a strike based on the juror’s neighborhood is inherently race-based.
“This has nothing to do with race,” Thomassey said. “For them to start this that I’m a racist …”
The trial judge, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Alexander Bicket, cut him off.
“That’s not what they’re saying,” he said.
“Yes, it is,” Thomassey replied.
Bicket asked that the woman, juror No. 20, be brought back so prosecutors could ask if her community would place pressure on her. She had already left the courthouse by then. A brief recess ensued until she could be brought back to the courtroom.
Asked if she’d feel any pressure to render a verdict one way or another, the mother of three said no.
Bicket granted the Batson challenge, and the woman was tentatively selected as the eighth juror. However, the judge said he wanted to read more case law on the issue.
Thomassey later attempted to challenge prosecutors’ strike of a 30-year-old white man who graduated from a police academy and is actively searching for a job. The man told attorneys he hadn’t heard of the case before Tuesday but, upon being briefed on it by Bicket, initially misconstrued it as a man on trial for harming a police officer.
He said he became angry and tense until the situation was clarified, at which point he “did a 180” and pictured himself in Rosfeld’s position. He told Fodi, however, that he thought he could be unbiased once he had the facts.
After prosecutors struck the man, Thomassey objected.
“They’re striking the cop because he’s a cop,” he said.
Bicket allowed the strike.
The jurors selected so far are:
- A 66-year-old white man who hosts his home on Airbnb and retired from railroad work after 41 years
- A 39-year-old white woman who is a former librarian whose father spent 25 years in law enforcement
- A 35-year-old white woman who is the mother of three and a customer service representative
- A 27-year-old white woman who works as a data analyst
- A black woman with a job in social work and whose partner of six years is a retired Pennsylvania State Trooper
- A 52-year-old white man who works as an insurance adjuster and landscaper and has three grown children
- A white woman with two grown children who said she hadn’t heard about the case until she saw a blurb on the news Tuesday morning
- A 55-year-old black woman who works as a virtual Comcast customer service representative
- A 71-year-old black man who is a retired school teacher with six grown children
One of the first jurors chosen, the former railroad worker, said he’d be comfortable deliberating with other jurors about his own opinion.
“They could open your eyes to something you didn’t see,” he said.
The former librarian, who now works in online customer service, said she could set aside what she has read about the case in the media.
“I know you don’t always get to hear all the facts. There’s always more to the story,” she said.
Jury selection was moved to Dauphin County after Thomassey successfully argued for a jury from outside Allegheny County. He contended no local jury could fairly decide the case, which has gained national attention.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .