Jury selection about halfway finished in death penalty case

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

Jury selection is roughly half-finished for the death penalty case of a Portales man accused of killing an elderly Portales couple.

Bedford, 43, of Portales is charged with two counts each of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and evidence tampering, and one count of possession of stolen property.

So far, 9th District Attorney Matt Chandler said, 100 potential jurors have been questioned individually. Of those, 32 have been placed on a panel.

Of those knocked out, Bedford attorney Gary Mitchell said, some couldn’t be there for six weeks due to family and work obligations, some would give the death penalty in numerous circumstances and some would never give the death penalty for any reason.

“Under our present law, they do not qualify,” Mitchell said. “You want a juror that would consider both sides and be fair to both sides.”
About 100 more will be questioned in efforts to make a 60-person panel.

From those jurors, each side will have the opportunity to challenge specific jurors. Mitchell of Ruidoso, will have 24 challenges while the state will receive 16.

“There are some who qualify (as jurors), and you (still) don’t think you’d get a fair trial from them,” Mitchell said. “It’s all in trying to get to the fairest possible jurors you can get.”

Mitchell said there may be some jurors neither side would want. He likened it to a basketball game where the referee’s daughter is playing. The daughter doesn’t want her father refereeing because she thinks he’ll be harder on her, Mitchelle said, and her opponents think he’ll be easier on his daughter’s team.

Twelve jurors and as many as four alternates are needed.

The trial was moved to Albuquerque after Chandler and defense attorney Gary Mitchell of Ruidoso agreed on the difficulty of finding an impartial jury in Roosevelt County.

Chandler said even in Albuquerque, the court is finding many people who have heard of the case through a television or newspaper account. He realized the death-penalty case is high-profile, and basic knowledge was acceptable.

“As long as they have not drawn a conclusion or an opinion about the case,” Chandler said, “then they’re jurors we continue to question.”

Judge Stephen Quinn of the 9th Judicial District is presiding over the trial.

The bodies of Odis Newman, 70, and his wife, Doris Newman, 69, were found March 3, 2005. According to court documents, the Newmans were alive when they were put into the trunk before the car was set on fire.

Jerry Fuller of Portales, a co-defendant in the case, pleaded guilty Jan. 17 and was sentenced to 127 years in prison.