Jury selection has begun in the murder trial of Marni Yang after the judge denied a stay in the proceedings so she could get her hair done.
Yang is charged with shooting and killing Rhoni Reuter, who prosecutors assert Yang perceived as a rival for the affections of former Chicago Bears player Shaun Gayle.
Reuter was about seven months pregnant when she was killed in October 2007. Yang was charged with first-degree murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child in March 2009.
The trial is expected to take up to three weeks.
Lawyers for Yang have sought to put the trial on hold to appeal Judge Christopher Stride’s Monday ruling that Yang, who has been held in Lake County Jail since her arrest, could get her hair cut and colored. Stride denied a request to delay the trial while defense attorneys appealed.
Yang appeared in court this morning in a blue blouse and gray slacks, an outfit provided by her family, with her hair partially pulled back in ponytail.
Jury selection started off smoothly, with attorneys from both sides agreeing to seat on the panel the first person from the jury pool that they questioned. He’s a 36-year-old married father of four who works as a Web site design manager for a retailer and said he’s lived in Lake County for three years.
Lawyers tussled over a range of issues on the eve of the trial Monday, from whether Yang can get her hair done to how much the jury can hear about Gayle's involvement with Reuter. Statements that Gayle pressured his girlfriend into having two abortions before her fatal shooting will not be allowed.
Prosecutors objected to what they called "silly" efforts by the defense attorney to suggest that it was Gayle, not Yang, who had motive to commit the crime.
"There's no evidence whatsoever that ties him to this in any way," said Assistant Lake County State's Attorney Ari Fisz.
Judge Christopher Stride said that while Gayle's actions were "ungentlemanly and boorish," they don't prove he was involved in Reuter's slaying.
Yang's attorneys had argued that Gayle harbored "hostility" about Reuter's pregnancies, prompting Reuter to hide her third pregnancy from him until into her third trimester.
"He was not willing to give up his romantic life with a variety of other women … and be hamstrung with raising a child," Yang attorney William Hedrick said.
Hedrick also said Reuter told a friend that Gayle pushed her when she was six months pregnant, just weeks before her slaying. In addition, Gayle was dating multiple women and was not supporting Reuter financially, Hedrick said.
Prosecutors did not object to the facts of Hedrick's statements. Gayle's attorney, Donna Rotunno, declined to comment late Monday.
Stride also denied a defense request to allow the jury to hear taped conversations between Gayle and Yang in late 2007, during which Yang denied involvement in the killing.
"The defendant's interactions with Mr. Gayle are not that of a groupie or fan or someone obsessed at all," Hedrick said.
The judge called Yang's denials "self-serving hearsay."
Stride will allow the jury to see video of the crime scene, where the cheery yellow walls of Reuter's living room contrast with the gruesome images of her kitchen, where her body is shown face down in a pool of blood, with shell casings and live rounds of bullets on the floor around her.
The jury also will see autopsy photos of Reuter's 7-month-old female fetus after it was removed from her womb. Assistant State's Attorney Patricia Fix said two of the six bullets that entered Reuter's body were aimed directly at her womb.
"There are two bullet wounds that go through the fetus," Fix said. "(The pathologist) will say that the fetus did not die because the mother died."
One last issue was the defense's request that Yang be allowed to have her hair cut and colored and have makeup applied before her trial.
"Her appearance has declined," Hedrick said of the two years Yang has been in jail. He also noted that male inmates are allowed to be shaved and have haircuts before going to court. "She looks frankly like a crazy woman. She does not look like anyone Shaun Gayle would have a second of interest in."
Stride denied the request, prompting Hedrick to ask for a stay in the proceedings so he can appeal the rulings.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times