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4 seated- 12 to go for Brown's trial jury
By Stacy St. Clair | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/31/2007

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What's new: Two more jurors selected Friday, bringing the total tapped to four.

What's next: No jury selection Monday as the judge will listen to legal arguments concerning the release of the jurors' names and the juror questionnaire.

Attorneys tapped a devout Catholic and a Nancy Grace devotee Friday to be jurors in the upcoming Brown's Chicken murder case.

The pair join two other panelists selected in earlier proceedings. The case now has four of the 16 required members.

The jury thus far includes three men and one woman. The two people selected Friday are both minorities.

The panel will decide the fate of Juan Luna, the former Brown's employee who police say killed five of the restaurant's workers and its two owners Jan. 8, 1993.

His high school pal James Degorski, now 34, also has been charged in connection with the slayings.

The men, who will have separate trials, have pleaded not guilty to the crime. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

The possibility of deciding Luna's mortality weighed heavily upon one juror Friday.

The 24-year-old Asian man, who works for a mortgage company, described himself as "devout Catholic" who has led a "sheltered" life.

"It's tough to understand the compromise of life for life," he said.

The young man, who impressed lawyers on both sides with his thoughtful answers during questioning, acknowledged being overwhelmed by the case's magnitude. He also admitted to being stunned by both hearing the detailed charges against Luna and seeing the nearby Cook County jail.

"I'm just a kid from the suburbs," he said. "I've never seen anything like it. It's kinda scary."

Despite his apprehensions, the man did not hesitate when Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine asked him if he could promise Luna a fair trial. The juror turned and looked directly at the defendant.

"I can give you a fair trial," he said.

Luna, 33, nodded and softly replied, "OK."

The other juror selected Friday works for the Chicago Transit Authority and enjoys watching legal-themed television shows. He said he turns on Court TV during his lunch breaks and watches CNN Headline News legal analyst Nancy Grace each night before bed.

The man described himself as a death penalty proponent. He told attorneys his uncle had been shot and killed in a tavern shooting, but his assailant had never gone to jail.

"If you do the crime," he said, "you have to pay the time."

The juror, a black male who appears to be in his 50s, was visibly upset when he learned he had been tapped for the panel. His reaction prompted Cook County Judge Vincent Michael Gaughan to tell him to "try and lighten up."

"You put a jinx on me," the man half-jokingly grumbled to the deputy in charge of monitoring the jury.

The selected jurors will begin service April 13, when opening arguments are expected to begin.

Luna, formerly of Carpentersville, currently faces 21 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of seven people: Lynn and Richard Ehlenfeldt, Guadalupe Maldanado, Michael Castro, Thomas Mennes, Marcus Nellsen and Rico Solis.

So far, prosecutors have used four of their 14 peremptory strikes on candidates who opposed the death penalty.

The defense has exercised seven, half of the number allotted during the selection process.The schedule called for 30 people to report for questioning Friday, though the attorneys were able to get through only 17. The process is done in private with only the judge, Luna, defense attorneys, prosecutors and a media representative present. Jury selection is slated to resume Tuesday.