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“Spider” re-sentencing - Odessa American: News

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“Spider” re-sentencing

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Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 12:00 am

It isn't every day when a court proceeding involves so many people they have to move it to the Ector County Coliseum. But next month - on April Fool's Day, no less - the district court is asking 600 people to answer the summons they sent out Wednesday and show up there for jury selection on Michael Dean "Spider" Gonzales' re-sentencing trial, Ector County District Clerk Janis Morgan said.

For only the second time in Morgan's and court administrator Nancy Halfacre's memory, stretching back 25 years, the sheer number of people needed for the jury selection will force them to move from the courthouse to a larger building on April 1.

The other time? Gonzales' criminal trial.

Halfacre said a few of the people who already received a summons were suspicious when they saw the date and the location.

"This is real. This is not an April Fool's joke," she said.

Morgan and Halfacre also said that they were not expecting all 600 people to actually show up for the jury selection process since some of them may ask to be excluded from it.

"It will cull down considerably that day," Morgan said.

Typically, the court summons a pool of 750 potential jurors at a time for all four of the districts it includes. Morgan said the trials include everything from civil cases and car wrecks to criminal cases, including capital murders if the death penalty isn't being sought. They're seen in much smaller groups at a time.

Jury selections require questionnaires to be filled out, she said, but for death penalty cases, jury members are asked a different and more complex set of questions and must face different qualifications. Among other requirements, they cannot morally oppose doling out the death sentence once the suspect is convicted.

Halfacre said the length of time needed to complete those questionnaires also was the reason they wanted to find enough seats for the 600 people they asked to appear.

Gonzales was convicted in 1995 of murdering then-next door neighbors Manuel Aguirre, 73, and Merced "Bita" Aguirre, 60, at their home in 1994 at 220 Schell St., stealing some of their property and selling it.

He was later sentenced to death, but his death sentence was overturned. On June 11, 2000, then-State Attorney General John Cornyn announced six convicted killers, including Gonzales, likely would have their death sentences overturned because psychologist and expert witness Walter Quijano was racially biased in his testimony in the case of Victor Saldano. Quijano also testified in Gonzales' case.

Prosecutors also sought the death penalty for Lincoln Keith, who was convicted of committing a murder in October 1994 after a trial in November of 1995, but neither Halfacre nor Morgan could recall if such a jury selection process was used for his trial. Keith was given a life sentence.

Midland attorney Woody Leverett Jr., one of two lawyers representing Gonzales, confirmed they were seeking a re-sentencing but declined further comment.  His other attorney, Jason Leach, could not be reached for comment.

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