Choosing Anderson jury proves to be a tricky undertaking

Lisa Demer

Picking a jury in the public corruption case against Tom Anderson is proving extra tricky because so many of those in the pool either know something about the case or think they do -- or hold politicians generally in low regard.

"I've already made up my mind," Donald Burns of Soldotna told a U.S. District Court judge on Monday. Burns, wearing a T-shirt and a baseball cap, said he listens to talk radio, watches TV news and reads two newspapers. "I hope they hang him," he said.

He won't be on the jury.

Jury selection began Monday in federal court and continues today. It's slow going.

One potential juror was ruled out because she did research of her own, looking up Tom Anderson on Wikipedia.

Opening statements and testimony probably won't start until Wednesday. Anderson is charged with seven felony counts including bribery, extortion and money laundering.

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick started with a pool of 102 Alaskans, many from Anchorage but also the Valley, the Kenai and as far away as Bethel and Dillingham.

Because of what the judge called "substantial pretrial publicity," they were called into the courtroom one at a time for questions about what they knew and whether they already had their minds made up.

When longtime Anchorage resident Hannah Davis heard about the charges against Anderson, her reaction was, "Oh no, not another one," she told the judge. Too often, people in power, from Anchorage to Washington, D.C., use their positions for personal gain, she said.

The government must have something on Anderson or else it wouldn't have charged him, said Davis, who told the judge she relies on National Public Radio and the Anchorage Daily News.

"Did you ever watch 'Perry Mason?' " Sedwick asked, referring to the television show famous for defendants on trial who turned out to be innocent.

Davis said she'd have to hear a lot of evidence that the allegations were not true before she'd vote that way.

She won't be on the jury either.

Not all those dismissed said they were biased against Anderson.

Warren Suddock, a retired police officer who said he had known Anderson's father -- the former head of the Alaska State Troopers -- for 40 years, told the judge he went through the FBI training academy and knew how the system worked. He wouldn't give his opinion publicly.

He's out too.

Among the Alaskans still being considered are Deidre Peterson, who told the judge that she once dated Anderson, found the accusations "kind of unbelievable," and tried to tune out news coverage about the case.

They met at a bar and went out just once, a few years ago, for dinner at Sullivan's, Peterson said. They haven't been in touch since. But she still thought well of Anderson and figured the stories about him couldn't be right.

Prosecutor Joe Bottini asked the judge to exclude her from the jury pool. But the judge noted that they just had the one date and that Peterson said she could still consider the case fairly. Anyway, the prosecution and the defense each can exclude some potential jurors today without having to give a reason.

Some others who remained in the pool either don't follow the news or didn't recall details of what had been published regarding Anderson.

Sean Sward of Anchorage said he tries to keep the news from his children.

"It seems to be mostly bad," Sward said.

Anderson is the first of four indicted Alaska state politicians to go to trial, but his case is distinct from the other three, who are accused of taking bribes from executives with Veco Corp. Anderson is accused of being paid off through a phony Web business to do the bidding of a private prison company.

A number of people in the jury pool told the judge they thought Anderson was part of the Veco mess. Sedwick told them the charges against Anderson have nothing to do with Veco.

Technically, that's true, though the government does plan to submit some evidence that involves Veco, Bottini told the judge as court wrapped up Monday.

Anderson was a paid consultant to Veco at the time he was a legislator, and prosecutors plan to show jurors his financial disclosure reports, Bottini said.

Plus, in one of the secretly recorded conversations the government plans to play for jurors, the Veco contract is discussed in a way that suggests it's a "sham contract," Bottini said.

Anderson's lawyer, Paul Stockler, said he plans to file a motion regarding that material.

In all on Monday, Sedwick and attorneys on both sides questioned 70 potential jurors. Of that group, 20 people were excused, most because of their opinions on the case. At least three had scheduling conflicts.

Find Lisa Demer online at or call 257-4390.

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