- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

BALTIMORE | When jury selection begins Monday in federal court for the capital murder trial of a man accused of killing a witness, certain questions that attorneys would typically ask of potential jurors will be off-limits.

That’s because a judge has ruled that jurors will remain anonymous during the trial of Patrick A. Byers Jr., of Baltimore, and three co-defendants, a step typically reserved for trials of reputed gang leaders or mafia chiefs.

Mr. Byers is accused of orchestrating the death of Carl S. Lackl Jr., who had identified him as the gunman in a previous slaying. Mr. Lackl, 38, a single father, was killed July 2007 in a drive-by shooting outside his Rosedale home. He’d been lured outside with phone calls about a car he was trying to sell.

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Mr. Lackl’s slaying came eight days before Mr. Byers was to be tried for the 2006 slaying of Larry Haynes - with Mr. Lackl as the star witness. Mr. Byers was in jail at the time; he’s accused of using a contraband cell phone to order Mr. Lackl’s death and arranging to pay $2,500 for it.

Mr. Byers maintains his innocence, said A. Eduardo Balarezo, one of his attorneys.

U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett wrote last month that he “determined by a preponderance of the evidence” that releasing the names of jurors to attorneys “may jeopardize the jurors’ safety.” Attorneys will be told the communities where jurors live but nothing more. Normally, they would know jurors’ names, dates of birth, job status, marital status and educational background.

“We have a bunch of people coming in to determine our client’s fate, and we will know nothing about them,” Mr. Balarezo said.

Mr. Byers’ other attorney, William B. Purpura, argued in a motion that the facts of the case did not merit an anonymous jury, citing rulings that described the practice as “extreme,” “a last resort” and “drastic.”

Mr. Purpura said in an interview, however, that he would not object to granting anonymity to jurors if it would make them “more comfortable.”

“We want the jurors to feel they are completely comfortable so they can listen to the facts and make a decision,” he said. “That’s what the judge is trying to do as well.”

But lawyers not associated with the case said granting anonymity to the jury is a blow to the defense because it signals that the person on trial is no small-time crook.

“The argument is that it says to the jury the defendant is someone you should be afraid of,” said defense attorney Andrew D. Levy of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP in Baltimore.

“In federal cases, it’s not the norm,” said Thomas J. Saunders, another Baltimore defense lawyer. “I’ve been doing federal trial work now for 10 years, and I’ve only had one case with an anonymous jury so far.” It involved a drug gang in Washington tied to 35 murders.

Prosecutors can file a motion asking for an anonymous jury but did not do so in the Byers case. U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein declined to comment on the Byers trial but said anonymous juries were not all that rare.

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