Judge Chooses 9 Women, 3 Men as Jurors for Noriega's Drug Trial

From Reuters

The judge in Manuel A. Noriega's drug case Friday selected 12 jurors and six alternates for the former Panamanian strongman's trial on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.

U.S. District Judge William M. Hoeveler said opening arguments would begin Monday in the trial, which court officials said could last five months.

Hoeveler, surprising observers who had expected jury selection in the widely publicized case to last for weeks, kept the process moving quickly over six days and met his self-imposed Friday afternoon deadline.

The 12-member panel is made up of nine women and three men. Eight are black, two are non-Latino whites and two are Latinos.

"You are now embarked on a very important project, and that is the trial of this case," the judge told the jurors after they were sworn in.

"You must consider this case only from the standpoint of the evidence that is presented in this court," said Hoeveler, who also issued the customary warning against talking to reporters, friends or attorneys about the case.

The jurors must decide whether Noriega is guilty of taking millions of dollars in bribes to help the Medellin cartel launder money and smuggle cocaine through Panama to the United States. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The judge and lawyers for both sides questioned nearly 200 potential jurors, weeding out those who might have trouble being impartial and excusing those who would experience financial or personal hardship during a lengthy trial. The final selection came from a winnowed-down pool of 80.

To speed the selection process, potential jurors were screened in advance. They had to answer a lengthy written survey that asked them how much they knew about Noriega, the Colombian cocaine cartels and U.S. policy in Panama and Central America.

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