- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2010

OWOSSO, Mich. | In life, activist James Pouillon spent years trying to influence people in his small Michigan city with his pro-life signs showing dead fetuses. In death, his combative style could make it difficult to find an impartial jury for the trial of the man charged with killing him.

Jury selection began Tuesday in the first-degree murder trial of trucker Harlan Drake, who is accused of gunning down Mr. Pouillon outside Owosso High School on Sept. 11, then later shooting business owner Mike Fuoss.

But prosecutors have warned a judge that it will be “almost impossible” to find jurors who hadn’t seen Mr. Pouillon’s demonstrations or formed an opinion about him. He was everywhere — the farmers market, City Hall, the county courthouse, football games — with verbal taunts that were as shocking as his signs.

In high-profile trials, it’s typically the accused seeking a new venue because of too much publicity or other issues. Not in this case.

“What’s the assumption here?” said Mr. Drake’s defense lawyer, Robert Ashley. “That people feel someone who had an obnoxious way of exercising his First Amendment right should die for it? That’s extreme. … I think we can get an impartial jury.”

Judge Gerald Lostracco is keeping the trial in Shiawassee County, population 71,000, unless the prosecutors turn out to be right and a fair-minded jury can’t be chosen this week.

“We’ll give it a sincere effort,” assistant prosecutor Sara Edwards said.

Mr. Pouillon, 63, was holding a sign depicting a dead fetus when he was fatally shot as students were entering the high school across the street. Mr. Fuoss was shot minutes later at his gravel company, just outside Owosso, which is 70 miles northwest of Detroit.

Police say Mr. Drake, 33, confessed to the killings. Authorities have not disclosed a motive, although they have referred to a possible grudge between him and the victims.

His family has denied any rift. They said Mr. Drake was depressed and having trouble with his medicine. He attempted suicide in jail.

“We’ll ask for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity,” Mr. Ashley said.

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