Five dozen citizens reporting for jury duty in a murder trial here were asked by the judge if they had lost a relative or close friend to homicide. One-fourth of them stood up.
It was a graphic illustration of what years of killings have done to the people of the nation's capital.One of those potential jurors had lost two people, one in 1992 and one in 1993.
Another lost a college roommate 18 months ago. He was driving down a street and got caught in the cross-fire of an argument he knew nothing about.
A third lost a relative who was shot in the head after her hands were bound with duct tape, an apparent execution.
Having one-quarter of a random group of potential jurors acknowledge losing someone to homicide is not unusual, said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Schertler, chief of the homicide section. The U.S. attorney's office prosecutes all such cases in Washington, where four people, including a police detective and two FBI agents, were slain at police headquarters last month.
"The city in the last three to four years has had the highest murder rate per capita, and it's a city with a fairly small population," Schert-ler said. "That means that you're going to have more people here who have been affected by homicide than you are in other places."
But what does that do to the jury pool, and how does one find a fair and impartial jury to hear murder cases?
The question about homicides was just one of many as the judge tried to ferret out whatever personal knowledge, prejudices and emotional baggage the jurors were bringing to the courtroom where one young man was accused of killing another in a drug dispute.
Most of the 14 people who acknowledged losing someone they cared about said that they believed they could be fair and impartial jurors. Any who could not would be removed from the case by the judge.
Attorney Frances D'Antuono, who since 1988 has defended only accused murderers, adamantly keeps such people off her juries.
"I try to exclude them no matter what," she said.