Fifty-two potential jurors crowded into a federal courtroom in Arkansas on Tuesday to discuss all manner of personal matters — very serious and even very silly; favorite TV crime dramas, past summer jobs and past traumas — as the judge and attorneys in Josh Duggar's child porn trial assessed who would be their best options.
By Tuesday night, after a marathon session in and out of the judge's chambers, a jury of 12 plus four alternates had been seated.
It's not yet clear who the jurors are: Because of a last-minute error with the audio feed provided to reporters at the courthouse — who weren't allowed to observe jury selection in the courtroom because of space restrictions — further details of the selected jurors weren't available. (A court spokesman said he had no additional information later Tuesday night.)
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Throughout the day, however, the 52 potential jurors, all of whom went by numbers instead of their names, identified themselves in ways, big and small, as they answered a battery of questions, first from the judge, then prosecutors and the defense.
Among the group was a CEO of a trade association and a retired Arkansas Credit Union president and a special education teacher; an operations manager in logistics and a customer service manager for Tyson and an online boutique owner. One woman has her own photography business, another rents out a property at the lake. A third works in graphic design at a nearby church, where she is passing acquaintances with one of Duggar's attorneys.
A fourth woman had, 20 years ago, bought a horse from two potential witnesses. (Her husband loved the horse, since deceased, though it ate too much.) One potential juror wondered aloud — perhaps fretting — that another potential witness was the same "Caleb Williams" as her boyfriend Caleb Williams. The judge told her that she would be "delighted" to know he was not.
A local city employee worried his "general distrust" of government made him a poor fit. A study hall supervisor at a high school criticized "fake news."
Kris Connor/Getty Images Josh Duggar in 2015
Some potential jurors were quickly excused, including a woman who was 29 weeks pregnant with twins. Not long after her, a man spoke up to identify himself as a Duggar relative — his daughter is married to one of Duggar's brothers — and was summarily dismissed. ("I would have thought we would have had a filter in place to check for that but I guess not," Judge Timothy Brooks said.)
From the group's answers, a rough biographical picture started to emerge of who may soon be weighing the question of Duggar's innocence or guilt. Likewise, certain themes in both the prosecution and defense's arguments became clearer as did the names of witnesses who may take the stand and some of the evidence that will be shown.
The 33-year-old former 19 Kids and Counting star, political activist and oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar is accused of receiving and possessing child pornography — also known as child sexual abuse material — in May 2019. Authorities say more than 200 of the illicit images were found on his computer.
Josh has pleaded not guilty and vigorously challenged the prosecution on a range of issues including the admissibility of possible evidence and the thoroughness of the police investigation.
His attorney Justin Gelfand told jurors on Tuesday: "We are proud to represent Josh Duggar."
Instagram; Inset: Courtesy Washington county arkansas Josh and Anna Duggars' family; inset: his mugshot
Judge Brooks' questions took up much of the selection process as he asked potential jurors about their level of familiarity with Josh and the Duggar family as well as other parties in the case; their news consumption habits and social media use relating to the Duggars; their connection with the government and law enforcement as well as their past legal and criminal histories.
The judge also listed 28 potential or confirmed witnesses for the trial, including Josh's sister and brother Jill and Jedidiah. It was unclear if they may be called by the defense or prosecution. (Jill has previously spoken publicly about being fondled by her brother as a child, when he was a teenager.) Other names on the list included several Homeland Security agents who investigated Josh as well as two Duggar family friends, one of whom testified at a Monday evidentiary hearing.
The judge said he has "no idea if [Josh] will take the stand or not," but reiterated to jurors it was no reflection on Josh's potential culpability. No one can be compelled to testify against themselves.
Fourteen people in the jury pool said on Tuesday that they were essentially unfamiliar with Josh. Most of the rest said they were glancing consumers either of Duggar-related TV or articles about them. (A few had been reading with relish, they admitted, when they realized his trial was set to start the same day as their jury summons.)
Having watched 19 Kids or followed the Duggars on social media was not itself inherently disqualifying, the judge said, unless "it has solidified your beliefs."
"You know what's in your heart. You know what's in your head," he said.
Eleven were regular newsreaders more broadly. Another seven had caught TV segments specifically about Duggar.
Three have or had law enforcement in their families. A woman had previously worked as a child advocate; a man had been a child abuse investigator for the county. Neither said their backgrounds would be a problem.
Six people, however, did say they already had strongly held opinions that might interfere with their fairness and impartiality.
The judge also asked if any of the pool had connections to sexual abuse in their or their families' lives. Seven did.
Jedidiah Duggar/instagram; youtube; shutterstock From left: Jedidiah Duggar, Jill Dillard and Josh Duggar
Once the prosecution took over, they homed in on a few points: Assistant U.S. Attorney Carly Marshall stressed that real-life detective work wasn't as tidy and speedy as what someone might watch on TV. (To make this point, she singled out her favorite crime show, the "funny, quirky" Castle, then encouraged potential jurors to chime in. Snapped, one offered. Law & Order: SVU, said another.)
Marshall also probed jurors on how they measure the credibility of witnesses and how they would weigh whether there was "reasonable doubt" in someone's story. Like, for example, if potential juror No. 18 testified that he had a protein shake for breakfast.
She questioned five from the group, all men, more closely about their jobs: what they did and what they did and didn't like about it.
As the judge did before her, Marshall also asked if the group was prepared to view and hear testimony about the child sexual abuse material in this case. No one voiced a concern.
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When the defense questioned the jury pool, they looked for people who have owned small businesses as well as those who were either very into computers, IT security and software — "really in the weeds" — or "so intimidated" by the same.
Gelfand, one of Josh's attorneys, also asked about the pool's attitudes on car lots and car salesmen. Josh worked at a self-owned dealership before his arrest and authorities say that is where the sexual abuse material was downloaded. In court papers, Josh's attorneys have suggested several other people also had access to the computer at his work where the material was found but that police didn't sufficiently investigate. Three such people are on the witness list that the judge read.
Finally, after a conference with attorneys, the judge met privately with at least 17 people from the jury pool to hear more about their answers and discuss sensitive topics.
Still looming is how the judge will rule on testimony about Josh's history of fondling four younger girls when he was a boy and young teenager — evidence the defense insists should be shielded by religious privilege as it was made during "spiritual counseling." Prosecutors say at least one key party to the evidence wasn't clergy at all.
Additional briefs were filed earlier Tuesday at the judge's request but he has not yet ruled.
Around sundown, the jury was seated. Arguments begin Wednesday morning.
If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 connected to a certified crisis counselor.