Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney has been busy preparing his case against former city schools facilities director Steven Raucci.
Carney has been lining up witnesses and evidence he believes will result in Raucci’s conviction on two dozen counts against him.
The defense has been doing the same, preparing ways to counter the prosecution’s case.
But first, before any proof can be entered, the task will be finding those 12 jurors and alternates who will hear the case, no easy job in a county where many have been riveted by the tale of Steven Raucci and the Schenectady City School District.
Between 650 and 675 people were put on notice for potential jury duty this week, a court official said, double the usual number.
The potential jurors won’t automatically be assigned to the Raucci trial, at least one other trial could also begin selecting jurors today.
According to one legal expert, knowing about the Raucci case won’t automatically disqualify potential jurors from serving.
“The test is not that the jury doesn’t know anything about the case,” said Albany Law School professor Laurie Shanks, who is not connected with the Raucci case. “It’s, given what he or she knows, can they set that aside and decide only on the evidence?”
The answer from potential jurors is generally that they can set that aside.
But, Shanks said, it can still be difficult for jurors to separate out what they heard in the courtroom with what they heard previously in the media.
“That’s the biggest problem in cases where there is a lot of pretrial publicity,” Shanks said.
Raucci, 61, of Niskayuna, is accused of planting bombs, vandalizing homes and intimidating people with an ultimate aim of currying favor with higher-ups in the school district to retain and solidify his power.
He is accused of placing incendiary devices at four homes around the Capital Region, including one in Schodack. Two of the devices exploded. No one was injured in the incidents.
He is also accused of damaging the cars and homes of people who disagreed with him — slashing tires, damaging paint or damaging windshields.
Out of the accusations have come 26 counts, including top-level counts of arson and terrorism.
Raucci had contemplated asking for a change of venue, a possibility that would have been difficult to grant, even with the intense media coverage. Nonetheless, Raucci decided against even asking, his attorney Ronald De Angelus has said. De Angelus said then that his client had great respect for the people in Schenectady County.
Today’s trial work is expected to be centered on culling the number of potential jurors, allowing those who can’t serve due to family or other commitments the opportunity to state their cases.
Schenectady County Commissioner of Jurors officials recommend jurors park in the city parking ramp on Broadway and walk to the courthouse. Jurors can validate their parking at the courthouse and pay $3 for the day.
Next up will be final pretrial hearings to determine if, how and when prosecutors can use prior allegations of bad conduct by Raucci.
Those hearings are expected on Tuesday, with jury selection resuming on Wednesday.
With a jury selected, opening statements would then be given and the first witnesses would follow immediately after.
“These are two very experienced and very competent lawyers,” Shanks said of Carney and De Angelus. “It should be a very interesting trial, one that will both be vigorously prosecuted and vigorously defended.”