The quest to find an impartial jury in the case of accused cop killer Brian Fitch began Monday morning in Stearns County courtroom No. 231. The trial was moved out of the Twin Cities metro because of concern over pre-trial publicity.
Fitch, 40, is charged with first-degree murder for the July 30, 2014 shooting death of Mendota Heights Police Officer Scott Patrick during a routine traffic stop. He faces several other charges related to his shootout with police in St. Paul following an all-day manhunt.
Nearly 100 prospective jurors spent Monday morning filling out questionnaires about the case. The form includes several questions directly related to pre-trial publicity including:
How would you describe the amount of media coverage you have seen about this case?
Have you had any conversations with family members, friends, co-workers or other people you know about this case?
If you answered yes, has anyone ever expressed the opinion to you that Brian George Fitch is guilty or probably guilty in this case?
The answers will help attorneys whittle the pool down to 14, including 2 alternates.
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Also on Monday, Fitch's defense attorney announced she plans to ask the judge to exclude several pieces of evidence -- including cell phone data -- because it was handed over to the defense just days before the trial. It's one of several topics the judge said she would eventually hear arguments about, including the latest allegations that Fitch conspired to commit murder and tamper with a witness from his prison cell. But first she wants to find a jury.
Scolded by judge
Fitch was in court for all of the proceedings, dressed in shirt and tie, with no handcuffs or shackles. Four bailiffs stood close by throughout.
Fitch was scolded twice by the judge -- once for talking with an attorney when he was supposed to be listening to the judge, and a second time for standing with his hands in his pocket. The judge said that makes people nervous.
The first-degree degree murder trial could last into February. If convicted of Officer Patrick's murder, Fitch will be sentenced to life in prison.