NEWS

Defense says Entwistle unable to get fair trial

Norman Miller

As jury selection inched forward Wednesday in the trial of a British man accused of murdering his wife and daughter more than two years ago in Hopkinton, the suspect’s lawyer called the method of picking the jury flawed.

Defense attorney Elliot Weinstein said it will be difficult for Neil Entwistle to get a fair trial because of the selection process and what he calls important questions Judge Diane Kottmyer is not asking.

“The bias in the prospective jurors in Middlesex County is real,” Weinstein said after the day in court ended. “This is a challenge we can’t beat. It’s a challenge we can’t overcome.”

During Kottmyer’s jury questioning, one woman said she heard other potential jurors waiting in line on Monday say, “Fry him,” and “Send him away,” referring to Entwistle.

Entwistle, 29, is charged with murdering his wife, Rachel, 27, and their 9-month-old daughter, Lillian Rose, on Jan. 20, 2006, in the home they rented at 6 Cubs Path in Hopkinton.

Another potential juror told the judge he heard people in the jury waiting room say, “He’s the guy who murdered his family.”

After the woman who said she heard some say, “Fry him,” was excused as a juror, Weinstein immediately moved for the jury selection to stop.

“We have an impermissibly infected pool of jurors,” he said. “These comments that are being made, these are attitudes people hold.”

Weinstein said if one juror said she heard the “Fry him” comment, others must have, but no one had previously said anything about the comments.

“There’s no way the court can say it received honest answers,” he said. “This proceeding should be suspended.”

Kottmyer denied the request.

After being dismissed, the potential juror who heard the comment would only say she was from Medford. She said she felt the comments were “fairly lighthearted, as much as it can be with that kind of comment.”

Of the 57 potential jurors questioned Wednesday, several said they could not put away the bias they felt about Entwistle’s guilt.

One man said, “God forgive me if I’m wrong. God help him if I’m right,” after Kottmyer dismissed him when he said he was biased.

Only 15 potential jurors from the original pool of 165 remain after both the prosecution and defense used their challenges. The defense has one challenge remaining, while the prosecution has 10.

Not being able to seat a jury with such a large pool shows there is too much bias in Middlesex County, Weinstein said.

Weinstein again Wednesday filed for a change of venue, which Kottmyer again rejected.

“We have finally heard what we’ve been talking about, what we’ve been concerned about and what we’ve been filing our pleadings about,” the lawyer said. “We now know without any doubt that Neil Entwistle cannot get a fair trial.”

Weinstein said the means used to pick qualified jurors is flawed. Under state law, a judge conducts the questioning, and lawyers can ask the judges to question jurors further. It is up to the judge to decide if more questions are necessary.

Weinstein said the process should be changed to give lawyers more opportunity to question prospective jurors. He suggested state lawmakers will probably use the Entwistle case as an example of why the law needs to be changed.

“The sad part is, those changes won’t come in time to help Mr. Entwistle,” Weinstein said.

Jury selection is scheduled to continue today.

Kottmyer said a new pool of about 70 prospective jurors will be issued the same questionnaires as the previous jury pool. She will question them individually until she has several qualified jurors.

After that, both the defense and prosecution will be allowed to use their remaining challenges until there are 16 jurors seated.

Twelve jurors will decide the case. Four others will be chosen as alternates. Entwistle continues to be held at Middlesex Jail in Cambridge, charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his wife and daughter.

Prosecutors allege Entwistle, hiding a life of debt, displeasure with his sex life and online business scams, shot his family with a gun stolen from the home of his wife’s parents in Carver before fleeing to England.

Norman Miller can be reached at 508-626-3823 or at nmiller@cnc.com.