Murder trial begins

Jury selection for the trial of Omar Mohamed Kalmio, 28, began Wednesday in the Ward County Courthouse.

Kalmio is being tried on suspicion of the Jan. 28, 2011, murders of Sabrina Zephier, 19, Jolene Zephier, 38, Dylan Zephier, 13, and Jeremy Longie, 22. Each charge is a class AA felony.

The first day of jury selection saw two of four color-coded jury panels, the “Orange” panel at 9 a.m. and the “Green” panel at 1:45 p.m., hear instructions and expectations from District Court Judge Douglas Mattson and to be asked general questions from attorneys.

Kalmio is represented by defense attorneys Thomas Glass of Bismarck and Kerry Rosenquist from Grand Forks. Assistant State’s Attorneys for Ward County Kelly Dillon and Sean Kasson are prosecuting the case for the state.

“Do not conduct any independent research about this case or any of the individuals involved in this case,” instructed Mattson. He spoke at great length about the prevalence of social media, such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, e-mail and texting, in people’s lives and asked the potential jurors to ignore all information regarding the case on those platforms, as well as in traditional media like television and newspapers, and to refrain from sharing their own thoughts and opinions. “With human nature being what it is, once a person voices what they’re thinking, they hesitate to change their mind. In this case, like in any legal dispute, the parties are entitled to a fair and impartial trial by a jury.”

“As the judge in this case it is my job to keep the order, instruct in the law, and see that proper procedures are followed,” Mattson continued after introducing the potential jurors to the courtroom staff, including the Clerk of District Court, the court reporter, a legal clerk who helped in preparations for the case and the bailiffs, and described the purposes of each person before introducing the case itself. “The case involves four counts of murder that have been filed against Mr. Kalmio by the state of North Dakota. That the charges have been filed does not mean that he is guilty of any one of those charges.”

Procedure was followed and the potential jurors were fully informed of expectations the court has for them, the basics of the case, and the ethics involved in trying a legal proceeding fairly. The attorneys were then given the floor to introduce themselves and for questioning the jury panel at large.

“In the process of selecting jurors, the attorneys and I will be asking you certain questions,” explained Glass to the “Green” panel, with Rosenquist giving much the same explanation to the “Orange” panel earlier in the day.

Both sets of attorneys were interested in the potential jurors’ abilities to place testimonies from different people on an equal footing, with the defense primarily asking them if they gave more weight to the testimonies of law enforcement officers over those of other witnesses, and the prosecutors asking if they may give less weight to the testimonies of incarcerated inmates than to others.

The right to a fair trial for both the defendant and for the state was stressed by the attorneys, and they thanked the jury pool for any admissions they made to questions, saying that it is “critical” that they answer all questions honestly in order to have the most fair trial possible.

Dillon reminded the panels that what they may be accustomed to seeing in television shows like “CSI” was “not real science,” and said that, unlike television, investigators can’t find evidence at a crime scene and then immediately have results after a commercial break. She also asked them not to bias their opinions by asking “that’s it?” when presented with scientific testimony. She illustrated her point by touching a post in the courtroom and saying that if investigators had dusted the post for prints, the jurors should not be biased by the evidence if it hadn’t also been tested for DNA.

All evidence should be taken into account, regardless as to whether it is circumstantial or direct, Dillon said, She used the hypothetical example that waking up in the morning and finding new snow on the ground outside your home is circumstantial evidence that can logically lead to the conclusion that it had snowed overnight.

Jury selection will continue with the next two jury panels today. Jury selection is expected to conclude Friday, with opening arguments presented Monday.