Jury Selection Begins Tuesday in Rooney Trial

By Adam Silverman
Burlington Free Press
May 12, 2008

When jury selection begins Tuesday morning in the murder trial of Brian Rooney, the questioning from lawyers is likely to offer a preview of the case's issues and strategies.

Prominent murder trials typically feature intricate selection processes, as prosecution and defense attorneys seek to weed out jurors who are biased, disagree with fundamental legal concepts or appear in some way to show a potential preference for one side or the other.

Often, lawyers reveal glimpses of the arguments on which a trial is expected to hinge: the meaning of DNA evidence, whether circumstantial evidence alone can prompt a vote for conviction, how a person might react to crime-scene or autopsy photos.

The trial of murder suspect Brian Rooney opens in Rutland Tuesday. Rooney is accused of killing UVM student Michelle Gardner-Quinn

In the case of Rooney, a 37-year-old Richmond man accused of raping and killing University of Vermont senior Michelle Gardner-Quinn in October 2006, a pretrial hearing last week revealed insights into the thinking not only of the lawyers but of potential jurors, too.

Judge Michael Kupersmith read portions of jury questionnaires during the 90-minute proceeding. Among the comments he shared:

— "I don't think I could be fair."

— "Most likely guilty."

— Rooney appears to be a "shady person."

-"I am biased against Rooney."

"I guess that's a pretty good indication," Kupersmith said, referring to the last comment. "I'm not sure why I had her down as a maybe."

Those potential jurors were among a dozen or so the judge excused from reporting to the courthouse this morning.

One person who will be called to court wrote on the form: "I would need to see all the evidence and make up my mind." Wrote another: "Sounds like a disturbed person who needs punishment." Lawyers and the judge wondered whether that remark referred to Rooney specifically or to whoever killed Gardner-Quinn.

DNA evidence is expected to play a central role in the trial. Authorities allege a genetic profile in semen recovered from Gardner-Quinn's body matches Rooney's DNA with scientific certainty. Gardner-Quinn, a 21-year-old environmental-studies major from Arlington, Va., disappeared early Oct. 7, 2006, after a chance encounter with Rooney in downtown Burlington, according to authorities. Hikers found her body six days later in the Huntington Gorge in Richmond.

Rooney has pleaded not guilty to one count of aggravated murder and is jailed without bail at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland. Conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.

Proceedings are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. today at Vermont District Court in Rutland, where Kupersmith ordered the trial relocated because of concerns about pretrial publicity in Chittenden County. Opening statements are expected Wednesday afternoon or Thursday, followed by testimony. The case is scheduled to last through May 30, but lawyers have said they hope to conclude a week before that. ?

Contact Adam Silverman at 660-1854 or


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.