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Jurors may be asked mental health, suicide questions in Shuai case

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Potential jurors in the high-profile trial of a Chinese immigrant charged with murder for the death of her newborn daughter won’t have to disclose their religious or political views, but they will be asked whether they or people close to them have been treated for mental health issues, suffered the loss of an infant or attempted suicide.

Those and other supplemental questions may be provided in confidential juror questionnaires that Marion Superior Judge Sheila Carlisle will approve in coming weeks for the trial of Bei Bei Shuai. Carlisle on Friday ruled on several questions Shuai’s defense proposed. Prosecutors say the trial could last three weeks.

Carlisle urged defense and prosecuting attorneys to work together to revise questions that will be allowed with some modification. For instance, a proposed question about whether prospective jurors had traveled to China will be reworded. “I do not want to focus on a particular country,” Carlisle said.

Shuai is charged with murder and attempted feticide in the death of her daughter. In the waning days of 2010, Shuai attempted suicide by consuming rat poison after she was jilted by the baby’s father. After friends persuaded Shuai to seek medical attention, her daughter was delivered by Caesarian section but died a few days later.

A medical examiner’s testimony that rat poison was the cause of death was ruled unreliable and inadmissible, but the state has contracted with a Michigan pathologist to rule on a cause of death, the results of which have not yet been disclosed.

Friday, Carlisle ruled out seven of 15 proposed defense supplemental questions that would have asked potential jurors about their religious and political views. Prosecutors argued none of the proposed questions should be asked. “That’s crossing a line into the improper,” deputy prosecutor Courtney Curtis said of the proposed question, “Do you identify with a certain religious faith?”

Barnes & Thornburg LLP partner and jury selection expert Dennis Stolle joined Shuai’s defense and said that questions regarding depression, China and others were “attitudinal” in nature and aimed to ensure a fair and unbiased jury.

Stolle told Carlisle that he’d represented a defendant in a recent case in Hendricks County that involved a litigant who was Chinese. Jurors were asked in open court of their views of people from China, Stolle said, and “I was astonished by their responses. … It was unsettling.”

Carlisle estimated as many as 150 to 200 potential jurors may be called to fill out questionnaires and be considered for a jury she said would consist of 12 jurors and likely six alternates.   

Carlisle said she intends to inform jurors in the questionnaire of the case they’re being called for, the language of the criminal complaint, and identify attorneys and potential witnesses so that potential jurors with clear conflicts can be removed from the pool. Jury selection will begin Aug. 26 for the trial scheduled to start Sept. 3.

Meantime, Carlisle ordered attorneys to prepare final witness lists by July 3 and file opposition or support for exhibits by July 15.

The Shuai case became international news after charges were filed. Shuai's attorney Linda Pence says charges should never have been brought and they represent a criminalization of conduct for which men and non-pregnant women would not have been prosecuted.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said in an August interview that the language of criminal statutes under which Shuai is charged is plain, and he had no hesitation about filing charges once facts of the case were known because Shuai’s conduct fell within that language.

Carlisle acknowledged the hundreds of potential exhibits from prosecutors and the defense and made the pronouncement that rather than granting continuances, evidence would be stricken if it didn’t meet deadlines.

The judge restated her admonition that no further delays would be granted in a case that’s already well over two years old. “We do not have the luxury of parties waiting to file motions,” Carlisle said. “We are at the point where evidence is going to be excluded before we add additional time in this case.”
 

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