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Sanders-Galvez Murder Trial Gets Underway

John Lovretta/The Hawkeye
Jorge Sanders-Galvez (center) exits the elevator on the second floor of the South Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk. He is accused of fatally shooting Kedarie Johnson, 16, of Burlington in March 2016

Jorge Sanders-Galvez, 23, of Missouri is charged with 1st Degree Murder in the death of a Burlington teenager Kedarie Johnson, 16, in March 2016. Sanders-Galvez’s trial got underway Oct. 24 in Keokuk.

Day 1

The first day of the trial started with jury selection. Nearly 60 residents of south Lee County filled the second floor courtroom in the county courthouse in Keokuk at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

They watched a 30-minute educational video on how the court system operates and what is expected of a juror prior to the court attendant calling out 37 names. The names were randomly selected by a computer program based on driving and voter registration records.

Jury Selection

The first 32 people were under consideration to become one of the 12 people on the jury. The remaining five would be narrowed to three people who will serve as alternates during the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.

The prosecution began the voir dire process at 10:10 a.m., after delays described by Judge Mary Ann Brown as technical in nature and the fact that several jurors did not arrive on time, prompting a call by the sheriff.  Laura Roan, an assistant Attorney General for the state of Iowa, took the lead for the prosecution.

Roan spent about an hour asking the potential jurors if they knew Jorge Sanders-Galvez, the prosecution and defense attorneys, or the more than 20 potential witnesses which includes members of the Burlington Police Department as well as the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations. Of particular interest to Roan was Defense Attorney Curtis Dial, who is from Keokuk. Several jurors reported that they knew him or had conducted business dealings with him.

Credit John Lovretta/The Hawkeye
Jorge Sanders-Galvez (L) is being escorted into the courtroom by members of the Des Moines and Lee County Sheriff's Offices.

Jury Familiar with Case

By 11:30 a.m. only two jurors had been dismissed, and they were due to scheduling conflicts. It was at that point that one juror when responding to a question, mentioned they had read about the trial in a local newspaper.

Roan asked the room how many other people had either listened to either a radio story, read a newspaper article, watched a television report or seen a post on social media about the case.

Almost every potential juror in the room raised their hand.

Upon seeing the response, Road said, “Maybe I should have started with this. It might be easier to say who has not.”

Roan spent the next half hour asking the potential jurors where they had heard about the case and how much they knew about it. At one point, Roan asked 12 jurors if they were familiar with the case. Ten of them said they were despite the fact that the crime being committed in Burlington.

Prospective Jurors Interviewed Individually

Judge Mary Ann Brown then released the jury for lunch. Upon their return, another  juror was dismissed for having previously been represented by Dial. Judge Brown said instead of continuing the juror questioning as a group, it would be more appropriation to conduct individual interviews.

Brown said this will allow the attorneys to ask each prospective juror how much they know about the case already in order to determine if their ability to be impartial has been impacted without further exposing the jury pool to additional information about the case prior to the trial.

Brown also said the interviews which were conducted in her chambers would allow the potential jurors to discuss any concerns they may have regarding the potential in the trial for discussion about race and LGBTQ. The suspect, Sanders-Galvez identifies as Hispanic and African-American meanwhile the victim was African-American and transgender.

The individual interviews began at 1:25 p.m. By 4:55 p.m., about 20 of the 37 potential jurors or alternates had been summoned to the judge’s chambers.

Judge Brown released the jurors at 5:00 p.m., imploring them to ignore everything in the media or online about the case because they should only consider the evidence presented at trial.

Brown said the individual interviews would continue at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25. Once completed, the group interviews by the prosecution and defense will get underway.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.