Absent Ira Makes Jury-picking Tough

Posted: September 15, 1993

The potential juror from South Philadelphia looked puzzled.

Defense attorney Norris Gelman repeated the question.

"Do you think (alleged murderer Ira Einhorn) must be guilty because he's not here?" Gelman asked, his arm draped over the defendant's empty chair as the woman stared at him from the witness stand.

Before he was finished, Violet Coloia was nodding vigorously.

"Yes," she said. "Yes, I do."

Everyone in the courtroom burst into laughter, because dozens of other potential jurors had tiptoed around the question. This juror, by answering so bluntly, pointed out the obvious, the way the child in the fable did when he shouted that the naked emperor had no clothes.

Coloia was excused from serving on the jury, but her response illustrated the problems faced by both sides in trying a defendant who isn't there.

Einhorn, who has been a fugitive for 12 years, is on trial for murdering his girlfriend, Helen "Holly" Maddux, in 1977, stuffing her body into a steamer trunk and leaving it in his closet for 18 months.

The one-time hippie spokesman, who had a cult following based at the University of Pennsylvania and who instituted Earth Day in Fairmount Park, fled to Europe in 1981 after posting bail and hasn't been seen in the U.S. since.

As Assistant District Attorney Joel Rosen explained over and over again to potential jurors, so much time had passed that witnesses were dying, memories were fading and the state was afraid that if it didn't try Einhorn now, it wouldn't have a case.

But many of the potential jurors were puzzled by the defendant's absence. Some thought it was unfair to try him without his being there.

"I can't imagine how you can come to a conclusion without the defendant being here, really," said one woman. She was excused.

Others wondered whether the verdict would count if the New Age guru suddenly reappeared in Philadelphia.

"Yes, if he is convicted and he shows up, it would count," Rosen explained to one puzzled potential juror.

Despite the difficulties, however, a 12-member jury and two alternates were selected by yesterday afternoon after the lawyers questioned about 80 potential jurors.

They will be sequestered during the trial, which is expected to begin Monday and last about two weeks.

Both lawyers said the defendant's absence makes it more difficult for them to try the case.

"There's no question, it works to the advantage of the defense," Rosen said. "The jury tends to give sympathy to the defendant."

But Gelman disagreed. He said the jurors might tend to see guilt in the defendant's flight. In fact, Common Pleas Judge Juanita Kidd Stout will tell the jury that the law allows them to infer that Einhorn's flight shows ''consciousness of guilt."

"All they see is an empty chair," Gelman said.

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