With jury selection in the Lay/Skilling trial imminent, the Chron asks will they get the presumption of innocence?
"As a practical matter, we all do have opinions of whether someone famous has done something wrong or not," University of Houston Law Center professor Robert Schuwerk said. "But presumption of innocence has nothing to do with what goes on outside the courtroom."
Lawyers for defendants Lay and Skilling are deeply concerned that come Jan. 30 when 100 potential jurors are seated in a federal courtroom, the presumption of innocence might not be there with them. Several outside observers also share this worry.
U.S. District Judge Sim Lake and Enron Task Force prosecutors are confident an unbiased jury can be sworn in in Houston. The judge says it can be done in one day.
Schuwerk is one of those who believes a fair jury can be found in this case or just about any case that comes through our judicial system.
"I don't think the presumption of innocence is dead or that it will be hard to find people who will indulge the defendants in this case," Schuwerk said.
There is a big difference between the snap decisions people make day to day and what jurors do when they take a solemn vow to consider only the evidence in court, he said.
''I think people who end up sitting on juries can do it. Lots can't; that's why they have (jury selection)," Schuwerk said.
But Steve Sheppard, a University of Arkansas School of Law professor who has written on the presumption of innocence, thinks pre-trial media coverage makes finding open-minded jurors increasingly difficult.
''One of the most fundamental problems is that though the law demands the presumption of innocence, the culture generally presumes" otherwise, Sheppard said.
''A lot of people are working hard to create presuppositions; the jurors may not even be aware of it," he said. ''All the media attention in the Enron case makes this one harder still."