Security at the Gloucester County Justice Complex yesterday was especially tight. All visitors were asked by county police to walk through two metal detectors, one inside the building's main door and the other outside the courtroom. Visitors also were asked to open their wallets or handbags for inspection and to display the contents of their pockets before entering the courtroom.
Inside the courtroom, Russo sat with his attorneys, Fred B. Last and Jeffrey Wintner. Joanne Iovanisci, the mother of Joseph Iovanisci, sat in the back of the courtroom.
Attorneys began the process that will lead to the selection of 12 jurors and four alternates in the case, a process that has been a focus of controversy for more than a year.
In late 1985, Wintner and Last filed a motion that challenged the county's method of selecting jurors. One of their contentions was that minorities do not have the same chance of being selected as other potential jurors.
On April 11, Judge Ernest L. Alvino ruled that the system had several defects but that it was not racially imbalanced. On April 30, a three-member state appellate court panel ordered all criminal trials and grand jury proceedings in Gloucester County halted until the county's jury-selection system was corrected.
The county's jury-selection process did not resume until September, after the corrections were implemented.
Almost two years have passed since the arrest of Russo, who is white. Wintner has contended that black jurors would be less inclined than whites to convict a defendant of capital murder.
Ordinarily, prospective jurors are brought into the courtroom and questioned as a group until attorneys for the defense and prosecution agree on the makeup of a panel. During the selection process, those considered biased in some way and those who cannot serve for personal reasons are excused.
In this case, the court is using a different procedure. The 50 prospective jurors were given a five-page questionnaire to complete yesterday and are to be interviewed individually by attorneys today. Attorneys said the questionnaire would speed the interview process.
Jurors are being questioned individually, according to attorneys in the case, because of the difficulty in keeping track of the answers of a large group of prospective jurors. Also, according to the attorneys, prospective jurors who want to avoid a lengthy trial might duplicate the answers of those who had been excused.
Another group of possible jurors was to be brought in to complete questionnaires today.
The jury-selection process in similar cases has taken as long as three to four weeks. After the jury is selected, Alvino said, the trial might last about a month.
On Jan. 30, county Superior Court Judge Samuel G. DeSimone denied a motion by Wintner and Last that the trial be delayed until a second study of the county's jury-selection process is completed.
The motion stated that changes in the system had not corrected a racial imbalance in the jury-selection process.
DeSimone granted their request for a second study, saying the study would have to be completed during the trial.