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Jury near for trial in beauty queen's killing

Strong feelings about the death penalty and the demands of farming slowed the jury-selection process Tuesday in the trial of a man accused of killing beauty queen Nona Dirksmeyer.
By JILL ZEMAN BLEED
Associated Press Writer
 
CLARKSVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Strong feelings about the death penalty and the demands of farming slowed the jury-selection process Tuesday in the trial of a man accused of killing beauty queen Nona Dirksmeyer.

Attorneys and Circuit Judge Bill Pearson dismissed more jurors than they seated, weeding out people who emphatically supported or opposed capital punishment as well as several farmers who couldn't abandon their chores to sit on a two-week trial.

By the end of the day, six women and five men had been seated for the capital murder trial of Gary William Dunn, 30, who faces the death penalty if convicted.

Among these seated Tuesday were a mother of two teenage boys who said she knew little about Dirksmeyer's death, the co-owner of a construction business who paused for several seconds before telling attorneys she could impose a death sentence and a retired carpenter who said he'd be very reluctant to support capital punishment.

"You'd really, really, really have to prove it to me," he said.

"Absolutely. That is our burden," special prosecutor H.G. Foster responded.

Also seated were a school principal, a former food inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a soft-spoken man in his 60s.

While defense attorneys quizzed potential jurors about their feelings on the death penalty, prosecutors implored them to remember Dirksmeyer, a reigning Miss Petit Jean Valley and Arkansas Tech University student who was found brutally attacked in her Russellville apartment in December 2005.

"Can you give Nona Dirksmeyer, her family, her memory and the people of the state of Arkansas a fair trial, just like you will for Mr. Dunn?" Foster asked a potential juror.
 
"Yes, I believe her family needs some closure," responded one juror, who was later dismissed because of her strong pro-death penalty stance.

Prosecutors argue that DNA links Dunn, a parolee who lived in the same apartment complex as Dirksmeyer, to the crime. But defense attorneys say the evidence isn't a match, and point the finger at Dirksmeyer's ex-boyfriend, Kevin Jones.

Jones, the first suspect charged in Dirksmeyer's murder, was acquitted by a Franklin County jury in 2007. He can't be charged again in her death.

"Someone murdered Nona Dirksmeyer and the question is who," Jeff Rosenzweig told the jurors.

One more juror and three alternates are needed before the trial officially begins. Pearson told attorneys that he hoped opening arguments could be heard Wednesday afternoon.
 
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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