The next phase of jury selection in the terrorism and arson case against former city schools facilities director Steven Raucci is to begin today when the first jurors who will decide his fate are expected to be sworn.
Attorneys for both sides worked Monday and Tuesday screening an estimated 300 potential jurors and coming up with 119 potential panelists, who will return today for further screening. About two-thirds of them are expected to be quizzed this morning and the remainder in the afternoon.
Those who survived the cut indicated they could serve for a month, could be fair and impartial and did not have any connection with the city school district.
The early screening was done to weed out those who clearly could not serve, including those who had already formed an opinion about the intensely watched case.
The jurors returning today will be asked a new series of questions, including more about what they’ve heard about the case already. They will need to be able to set aside anything they’ve heard and decide the case only on the evidence in court, Acting Schenectady County Court Judge Polly Hoye said.
“If that’s an issue for anyone, they can come forward,” Hoye said. “Hopefully, we’ve already screened those people out.”
District Attorney Robert Carney, who is prosecuting the case, and defense attorney Ronald De Angelus are looking for a total of 16 for the panel, 12 jurors and four alternates, to hear the expected monthlong case.
Raucci, 61, of Niskayuna, is facing an indictment containing 26 criminal counts. He stands accused of planting bombs, vandalizing homes and cars and intimidating people over a period of years with the alleged goal of currying favor with higher-ups and solidifying his power in the school district. Besides acting as director of facilities for the district, he was also president of the union local representing the employees he supervised.
Raucci was back in court Tuesday morning in his dark blue suit. He had a calm but animated discussion with his attorney.
Among the other questions to be posed to jurors will be whether they have a positive or negative view of law enforcement and whether that would change their view of potential witnesses.
Jurors may also be given a list of the expected witnesses to ensure no connections there. They’ll be asked if they’ve ever served on a jury before, whether they’ve been the victim of a crime, accused of a crime or convicted of a crime. They’ll be told that, while Raucci is facing a 26-count indictment, the indictment itself is not evidence.
Then the attorneys themselves will get the chance to question the jurors, accepting or rejecting potential panelists.
Still up in the air are anticipated hearings to determine whether any prior actions by Raucci can be used at trial and how they can be used. Some could be used during the prosecution’s direct case, others only if Raucci himself testifies. Still others may be excluded altogether as prejudicial or without value. Those hearings were expected as early as Tuesday, but were not held as the juror screening process went long.
Carney and De Angelus were to meet Tuesday afternoon to go over several issues to see if they could come to agreements.
The two have been ordered by the court not to discuss the case with the media during the trial.
The jury screening sessions that ended Tuesday were long and sometimes tedious. Potential jurors waited for their chance to meet with the judge and attorneys to answer the initial questions of availability, fairness and connections with the school district.
The issue of the long duration of the trial was apparent in one potential juror’s question to Commissioner of Jurors Hope Splittgerber Tuesday morning.
The woman asked about the definition of “available” for March because, she said, her definition of available would be different from her employer’s.
“They’re going to tell me ‘no’ because they don’t want to lose anybody for a month,” the woman told the commissioner in the audible exchange as the morning’s process began.
Raucci is accused of placing incendiary devices at four homes around the Capital Region. 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 or whom he perceived as an enemy — slashing tires, damaging paint or damaging windshields.