Nestande jury selection underway



Posted on February 11, 2013 at 7:15 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 18 at 12:40 PM

AUSTIN -- Jury selection is underway for the manslaughter trial of former legislative aide Gabrielle Nestande.

The 25-year-old is accused of hitting 30-year-old Courtney Griffin with her car in May of 2011, then driving away.

Nestande's parents were sitting in the courtroom along with 85 potential jurors Monday. They'll have to decide whether Nestande is guilty or innocent, but first lawyers have to narrow down the jury pool to 12, along with several alternates.

Nestande is charged with intoxication manslaughter, manslaughter and failure to stop and render aid.

Lawyers began the process of elimination by asking questions like:  Should women get more lenient punishments? Do you have sympathy for the defendant? Do you think she's too young to go to jail?
Do you have a bias in alcohol-related cases? Without hard evidence like blood draws or breathalyzers, could you convict someone of intoxication manslaughter?
Many of the potential jurors said they would need hard evidence, like scientific tests or surveillance video.

Criminal defense attorney Russ Sablatura says that's not uncommon.

"Well I certainly think it would be a lot different if they had blood, breath, police tests," Sablatura said.

Ever since her death, Courtney Griffin's father Bart Griffin has been working with legislators in order to toughen laws against motorists who fail to stop and render aid.

"She hasn't taken responsibility. When are people accountable for their actions anymore," Griffin said.

Defense lawyers are concerned about publicity in this case and whether "people with money can get a fair trial."

If convicted, Nestande could face 20 years for each manslaughter count and 10 for failure to stop and render aid. She is eligible for probation.

Judge Karen Sage expects this trial to last two weeks. Testimony should begin Tuesday.