The 52 jury panelists had been taken through the usual questions about whether they had ever been a victim or witness or accused of a crime, or had relatives involved in one, or had particular qualms about this case, and now they sat in their pews before the judge wondering what came next.
What came next was that the clerk read 12 names from his list and had the owners of the names sit in the front row, lining them up in order clear across the courtroom. And now the prosecutor and defense attorney huddled with the judge, whispering and glancing around at the stolid 12.
"Mr. Jones, would you step down please?" the clerk said not unkindly. He checked his list. "And, uh, Mrs. Smith, would you please take Seat No. 4."
Mrs. Smith slipped into Mr. Jones' vacated seat. Moments later she would be bounced, too, and her successor as well.
It can take a half-hour or longer to get a group of 12 jurors and two or three alternates who satisfy the needs of both prosecutor and defense.
All the jurors had been instructed on their first day that they could expect to be challenged and not to take it personally. So nobody felt rejected, particularly, even after two or three dismissals.
Still, a person wonders. What in fact are the criteria for an acceptable juror?
"There must be 120 defense lawyers in the District," observed veteran courtroom attorney Peter G. Kuh, "and there's probably that many theories."
A former prosecutor in Cook County, Ill., before coming to Washington in 1961 with the Kennedy administration, Kuh has been on both sides of the fence. Prosecutors, he said, often ten to lean toward older jurors on the grounds that they are more conservative about law and order, while defense lawyers seem to feel younger jurors might be apt to resent authority in general and favor the rebel.
"I like a salt-and-pepper jury, myself," he said, "with all types of people. Some say that whites tend to have a more theoretical notion of justice, but that's not the point. There are those who say you do as well with the first dozen picked by chance as with any others. But I do find myself preferring young people now. It's not that the over-70s are more set in their views, just that their attention sometimes wanders."
He also tries to keep women off cases involving brutal sex or heavy drinking. And he avoids lawyers and especially media people, like city hall reporters: "too cynical, been around lawyers and police stations too long."
Aside from that, it pretty much a matter of luck and instinct. The defendant also may have a gut feeling about this or that prospective juror. A few judges here let lawyers ask direct questions of candidates, but mostly the choices are made privately.
"In Illinois, you got much more information about a jury. The whole voir dire (jury quizzing) system was different: You got the list at the first of the month instead of 30 seconds before the trial, and there was lengthy questioning of each juror. Of course, this was 25 years ago, I don't know how it is there now."
In the District, lawyer get six peremptory challenges of a felony jury, three in a misdemeanor case.
Kuh is leery of the fad for psyching out jurors by computer, as in the first Mitchell-Stans case. He feels more damage is done in the process of checking out the jurors with their neighbors and friends than would be worthwhile in a trial.
Another way of sizing up a jury is Alan Soschin's theory of leaders and followers.
"You don't want 12 natural leaders on a jury," he said. "Two or three are enough. The only data we have are name, address, age, job and place of work. The least important is where they live - unless it's a white person who lives in Capitol Hill or some such area. The most important factor is where they work."
How does he spot a leader?
"Well, it's just that first impression: someone attractive, with a neat appearance and maybe their job suggests some contact with people. It's just a hunch."
Soschin also has picked up jury lore in his five years in the courtrooms. He doesn't like white jurors as a rule, partly because of the possibility that a jury might gang up on a lone white member, even unconsciously. He's wary of the over-60s, whom he sees as less tolerant of illegal behavior. Once he struck off a man who said his farm had been burglarized: Soschin "just didn't like the way he said it."
A trial lawyer gets to be a student, of subtleties. Defending an armed robbery suspect, Soschin had her nod visibly now and then at a prospective juror, and after the selections he made sure the jury heard him tell the judge, "We're satisfied, your honor," the idea being to make the jury feel he liked them and suggest that somehow they were already on his side.
For his summation he normally likes to stand directly in front of the jury, taking them into his confidence. But in this case the prosecutor had done just that, so Soschin on the spur of the moment decided to make his summation while standing close to his seated client, protectively. Sometimes he touched her.
This is one of Kuh's techniques, too. "I learned that with even the roughest, toughest-looking defendant, you should touch them," he said. "I always make a point of patting the client's head or shoulder at least once in a trial. It shows the jury you're not afraid of him."
Another factor is the importance of the defendant being out of jail during the trial. Jurors constantly see manacled prisoners being here and there, and the sight can get a jury to think of the defendant as a prison inhabitant, implying guilt.
To make the most of the fact that his armed robbery suspect was not in jail but was being allowed to go home every night after the trial session, Soschin had her stroll around the Pension Building by herself during recesses, so that the jurors would see her there, loose, a free person. (She was acquitted by the judge after the jury was hung for three solid days, 11-1).
Some defense lawyers, knowing that a jury will side with a defender if the judge seems to be favoring the prosecution, will go out of their way to make the judge angry with them, Soschin doesn't approve.
A lawyer can lose sleep trying to outguess a jury. There are so many factors. Are the jurors from a newly appointed panel? (Prosecutors have noted that the new two-week system seems to be losing them too many cases, and there is talk of returning to the one-month service term, since jurors tend to get hardened with experience.)
Should you put your client on the stand? (It's always your own witnesses who mess you up, Kuh said. Like the guy whose story was that he was "on my way downtown" when the crime occurred but who, on the stand, just had to say, "on my way downtown to see my probation officer . . . ")
The mysteries of the human face - who lives in there? Does that scowl mean displeasure or a headache" Is that a cunning smile or just a smile? That jut-chinned man with the candid, unflinching eyes: Is he a seeker of truth or a bigot? That sliding glance: hostile or merely diffident? The sleepy one - is he really sleepy, or do those hooded lids conceal the mind of a Socrates?
Face-guessing: a game of endless fascination to us all. But would you want to depend on it for your living?