PUEBLO — 21-year-old Kelsie Schelling disappeared on February 4, 2013. Schelling was pregnant at the time, and seemingly vanished after a trip from Denver to Pueblo, to see her ex-boyfriend, Donthe Lucas. Lucas is accused of killing Schelling, and is now the defendant in her murder trial.
We now know that the murder trial will begin as expected on Wed., February 3.
12 jurors and 4 alternates were sworn in for the Donthe Lucas trial in Pueblo this afternoon. Court is in recess, jurors told to report at 8 a.m. tomorrow, 2/3.— CO Courts (@CoCourts) February 2, 2021
On Monday, January 25, jury selection began for the trial. It is closed to the public, and could last for a week or more. Opening statements are expected on Wednesday of next week, but that all depends on how quickly the 12 person jury is selected. There will potentially be two alternates.
#PUEBLO: It’s day one of jury selection in the #DontheLucas trial. He’s accused of killing #KelsieSchelling, who disappeared in 2013. I’ve been told jury selection could last a week or more, with opening statements anticipated on February 3. @KOAA pic.twitter.com/PxxUOLmI56— Colette Bordelon (@ColetteBordelon) January 25, 2021
News5 spoke with Dennis Maes, a retired district judge, to learn more about the voir dire process, which literally means "to speak the truth." "It's a very emotional thing. I think that's going to be one of the areas that the lawyers will concentrate on when they're questioning the jurors, during voir dire, as to if they've read anything or seen anything about the case, whether or not they could put their personal feelings and their emotions aside, and make a decision based on the evidence that they see and hear during the trial, and that's their task," said Maes.
According to those with the Colorado Judicial Department, jury selection began on Monday with potential jurors filling out a questionnaire. A copy of the questionnaire will not be released to the public. On Tuesday, some individual questioning of potential jurors is expected to begin. "The attorneys will submit a list of questions that they think are appropriate, written questions for the jurors to fill out initially, to give the lawyers a little bit of information about them, and to determine whether or not there might be some bias involved one way or another... Those questionnaires will be provided to the attorneys, and then they will be used during the individual questioning of the jurors," said Maes.
Maes said this process is very detailed, and does take time. "I'm sure that both sides will be combing that jury list, and will have talked to their investigators and perhaps other people in the community to see if they can gather information about the jurors that might be presiding in the case," said Maes.
The passage of time since Schelling's disappearance could be problematic during jury selection. "The people that have, for instance, payed close attention to this case, probably followed it from day one, and they're going to have that etched in their minds," said Maes, who also said on the other side of that coin, there could be people who have forgotten the details or recently moved to the community, who may not have heard of the case.
"I have great confidence in the jury trial system. I think they do a fabulous job under some of the most difficult circumstances they can find... They know the burden they're carrying. And one of the things in this particular case, is they're going to have to sit there, let's assume it goes a month, that's a lot of time to be taking it in."
Attorney Stephen Longo said there are generally two vetting processes during jury selection. "Attorneys can strike a juror for what we call 'cause.' So, you're trying to strike jurors for cause, if you don't want that juror, but the judge ultimately decides if a juror needs to be struck for cause or not," said Longo.
Longo added lawyers also have peremptory challenges, which are a certain number of opportunities to eliminate potential jurors without stating a reason.
"You have to give them enough information so you can question and probe enough to know what that juror is thinking or what information they do have, but you're not allowed to argue the facts and evidence at that point."
A case of this magnitude and with it's level of notoriety, combined with a relatively small community, makes it difficult to find people who have never heard of the case, according to Longo. "It's been an ongoing story right, so you always have the chance that more people are talking about it, definitely now... And that's the tough part for the presiding judge is you have to draw a line somewhere, because everyone is going to have some proximity to the case," explained Longo.
Longo and Maes are confident the jury will be seated successfully.
Laura Saxton, Schelling's mother, provided News5 with a statement on the first day of jury selection.
"Just praying for the best possible jury, and also praying for them, because I know this is going to be a difficult process for them."
No cameras or live reporting will be allowed during the trial. Our Colette Bordelon will be there throughout the trial, and will have your coverage of the courtroom every evening. To see the most recent updates, follow her on Twitter at @ColetteBordelon.