Jury selection began Wednesday in the trial of the man charged in the 2015 slayings of three Upper Northwest Washington family members and their housekeeper. Attorneys on both sides have outlined the challenges in finding a panel of citizens to consider the shocking and highly publicized case.
Daron Wint, 36, of Lanham, Md., is charged with first-degree murder and other crimes in the killings of businessman Savvas Savopoulos, 46; his wife, Amy Savopoulos, 47; their son, Philip, 10; and their housekeeper, Veralicia Figueroa, 57.
Authorities allege that Wint bound, beat and stabbed the victims and then set their bodies on fire within the Savopouloses’ palatial home between May 13 and 14, 2015. The government says the killings were motivated by a demand for a ransom. Savvas Savopoulos had instructed an assistant to deliver $40,000 in cash to the home on Woodland Drive NW, about half a mile from the Naval Observatory.
Wint had previously worked for a Savopoulos family business. His DNA was found on pizza crust at the crime scene, according to court papers. When Wint was arrested, authorities found about $10,000 in cash in a vehicle linked to him.
Prosecutors said that if Wint is convicted, they will seek a sentence of life without parole.
Wint has pleaded not guilty to all charges. His attorneys have said in court that they may argue at trial that another person — whom they have not publicly identified — was responsible for the killings. When Wint was arrested about a week after the slayings, D.C. homicide detectives said they thought other people may have been involved. But Wint remains the only person charged in the case.
In hearings in D.C. Superior Court and court filings, defense attorneys and prosecutors said it could be difficult to find District residents whose schedules would allow them to participate in a trial expected to last about eight weeks.
Some 90 prospective jurors were ushered into the courtroom Wednesday morning to answer a series of questions read to them by D.C. Superior Court Judge Juliet McKenna.
Before the judge began, lawyers on both sides introduced themselves. Then Wint stood, faced the group and introduced himself in a loud voice.
“Good morning everyone. My name is Daron Wint,” he said.
McKenna asked the potential jurors if they had heard about the killings, sometimes called the “mansion murders,” in the media. And the judge asked if anyone would have difficulty sitting through a trial that included graphic testimony and crime scene photographs.
Wint’s attorneys also have raised concerns about how jurors may react to the graphic nature of the evidence. Prosecutors are expected to display photos of the crime scene, most specifically, photos of Philip’s “severely damaged” body, Wint’s public defenders Judith Pipe and Jeff Stein wrote in a court filing last month.
The defense attorneys requested that McKenna ask prospective jurors if they would be able to view such evidence and consider it in reaching a verdict without being influenced by emotion.
“In other words,” the attorneys wrote, “would evidence regarding how the decedents were killed or the injuries they suffered impact your ability to decide whether or not the government had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Wint is guilty of those crimes,” the attorneys wrote.
Wint’s attorneys also expressed concerns about the possible impact of race in the way jurors perceive the case. Wint is black, the Savopoulos family was white, and Figueroa was Hispanic. In their filings, Wint’s attorneys suggested that McKenna ask prospective jurors if the perception of the evidence would be influenced by the race of the defendant or the victims.
In filings, the defense team asked McKenna to tell the jurors: “It may help you to imagine that, for example, Mr. Wint is white. Think about whether imagining him as such alters your perception of the evidence. If it does, re-evaluate the evidence with that in mind.”
McKenna, however, did not raise the question about cross-racial issues.
As attorneys often do in high-profile cases, Wint’s attorneys asked the judge to have jurors detail anything they read or heard about the case in the media and, if so, question whether it would affect their ability to be impartial.
Another 90 prospective jurors will be brought into the courtroom and questioned Thursday. Opening statements and the first day of testimony are scheduled for Sept. 11.