State won't raise lacrosse matters in Mangum case

Mangum jury selections go slowly

Staff WriterDecember 3, 2010 

— Attorneys worked Thursday to keep the Duke lacrosse case out of accuser Crystal Mangum's current criminal troubles.

Prosecutor Mark McCullough and defense attorney Mani Dexter agreed that if Mangum takes the stand in her own defense, McCullough will not cross-examine her about false allegations of rape she made against three Duke University athletes four years ago.

Mangum faces trial on charges of arson, injury to personal property, contributing to the delinquency of her three children and resisting arrest. Police say she set the clothes of live-in boyfriend Milton Walker afire in a bathtub while the children and two officers were in her home responding to a domestic disturbance call.

Jury selection began Thursday with 17 jurors - more than one-third of the initial jury pool - excusing themselves, saying they couldn't impartially try the case.

Most of the others acknowledged they knew of Mangum through the lacrosse case but said they could still fairly determine her guilt or innocence on the current charges.

"I'm going to take it at face value that you can do that," Superior Court Judge Abe Jones told them. "I can only trust your solemn oath on that."

McCullough and Dexter then spent most of Thursday questioning remaining jurors. They were questioning the eighth juror when Jones sent everyone home for the day just after 5 p.m.

The judge had already dismissed three potential jurors: one for her belief that the courts favor women over men in domestic violence cases, one who admitted searching the Internet for information about Mangum on Wednesday night against the judge's order and one who said what he knew about the Duke case might affect whether he believed Mangum'.

The prosecutor also used one of his discretionary removals on a young man who had followed the Duke case closely and said he'd be less comfortable with a purely circumstantial case.

Dexter dismissed another potential juror who had said he planned to study criminal forensics after retiring from a local utility company.

That meant the lawyers and judge had approved only two jurors with about 20 left from the first pool. They need 12, plus a couple of alternates. Jones has called in a second pool of 30, in case not enough from the first are seated.

Dexter asked Jones to release the eighth juror interviewed because his family has strong ties to Duke and his wife, a university employee, sat on a committee charged with helping the campus deal with the lacrosse scandal. The man had said his knowledge of the lacrosse case might affect his work as a juror.

But Jones declined, saying many people in Durham have ties to Duke and opinions about the lacrosse case. He said he would trust jurors who admitted bias and promised to focus on the facts presented rather than those who denied that Mangum's past would influence them.

"Either you're going to get someone who's ignorant ... or somebody who's not telling you the truth," Jones said. "If I start trying to eliminate every positive connection with Duke, we're going to be here until hell freezes over."

jesse.deconto@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8760

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