Jury selection art

MAYS LANDING — It took almost two days for a judge to cut a jury pool from 100 to 50, but it took less than an hour for attorneys to slice that number down to just 15.

Eight men and seven women were chosen Wednesday to make up the panel of 12 jurors, plus three alternates, who will decide whether Ferdinand “Freddy” Augello — charged with the 2012 murder of April Kauffman, the conspiracy to murder Dr. James Kauffman and leading an opioid drug ring — is guilty.

The slow, and then hurried, process illustrates the intensive strategy behind the first step in any murder trial. First, the judge works to create a pool of jurors he or she believes can be fair and impartial through answers to standard and case-specific questions.

From that pool, the prosecution and the defense use what they’ve learned, as well as psychology, mannerisms and taking their best guess, to finalize the jurors who will ultimately decide the defendant’s fate.

Jury selection is “the most critical stage of a criminal trial,” said Atlantic City attorney James J. Leonard Jr., who has almost 20 years of experience in criminal law, and has picked more than 10 juries, in cases ranging from murder to sexual assault. “More important than an opening argument, more important than a closing argument, is the selection of who is going to hear that trial and who is going to render that verdict.”

And the decisions the defense and prosecution make during the process take into account “everything,” Leonard said.

“Your goal in selecting a jury is to select a panel that you believe will be fair and impartial and that you believe will not pre-judge your client — that will listen to both sides of the case and render a just verdict,” Leonard said, adding that “everything is something,” from the prospective juror’s clothing, age and employment to the way they do or don’t pay attention, even whether they laugh at a prosecutor’s joke but not a joke by the defense attorney.