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Secret jury selection
held in local Russian adoption death case
A York County judge said information was withheld from court calendar
and dockets intentionally.
By RICK LEE
Daily Record/Sunday News
A jury has been seated in secret for the internationally high-profile
case of a York County couple accused of killing their 7-year-old adopted
Russian son. The presiding judge said this was done primarily out of
fear that coverage by the York Daily Record/Sunday News would taint
Judge John S. Kennedy said information typically available to the public
on the court calendar and in the defendants' dockets addressing jury
selection was purposefully withheld by agreement between the defense and
the prosecution. No public hearing on the issue of jury selection was
"We know when there is a high-profile case on the docket, the
Sunday before jury selection there is usually a big story in the Sunday
News," Kennedy said. "That makes it difficult sometimes to
The Cravers' arrests drew international attention, as they occurred just
as Russia suspended adoptions with the U.S. in April 2010. Russian
officials attended the preliminary hearing.
Kennedy said the jury for Michael and Nanette Craver was selected
Tuesday from a pool of 59 potential jurors. He said 28 of those jurors
said they had heard of the case "but because of the time that has
lapsed, only a few remembered any details."
"Had there been a major article in the Sunday paper, we probably
would not have gotten a jury," Kennedy said.
Melissa Melewsky, legal counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper
Association, said, "Jury selection is public and must be conducted
in open court unless there has been a showing of good cause made on the
record for closure."
Law experts disagree whether the way jury selection was handled in this
case is problematic.
Duquesne University law professor Kenneth Hirsch said he can't think of
another instance in which there has been a "sneaky jury
selection," but "I can't think of any rule violated by doing
However, Melewsky said that for all intents and purposes, jury selection
was closed. Anyone who feels it was inappropriate could appeal to a
"The rules don't change because there's public interest," she
Kennedy said Tuesday's jury selection was open to the public, and some
members of the public were present. He said he was not sure how they
knew of the jury selection.
But, he said, the decision to not publish the fact that jury selection
was taking place or that the trial was scheduled for Sept. 6 in the
court calendar or defense dockets "was intentional."
"That certainly was an action on my part, and I take full
responsibility that it occurred," he said. "I anticipated the
papers would not be happy when they found out. I discussed it with my
colleagues, and they agreed is was not illegal and not improper."
As of close of business Wednesday, no information about the jury
selection or the scheduled start of this trial had been placed into the
Earlier Wednesday, a reporter asked Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tim Barker
if he was picking a jury for the Craver case. He said no. When the
reporter then asked, if he would be picking a jury, he said no.
Barker then added the district attorney's office had opted not to speak
publicly about the case "at all to ensure a fair trial." And
he would discuss neither the jury selection nor a trial date.
District Attorney Tom Kearney said Barker is "making all the
calls" in the Craver case.
"If the judge is trying to protect the defendants' rights, I think
it is inappropriate to comment," Kearney said.
Kennedy said a jury was difficult to pick for the murder trial of Paul
Hansen, who was convicted of first-degree murder in July for the
shooting death of Melissa Worley Barnes, after "a small story"
was printed in the York Daily Record/Sunday News. He said several of the
jurors said they read the story the day before jury selection.
Kennedy said he was compelled to go out of county for a jury for Stephen
Frankel following media coverage of the former attorney's arrest for
allegedly kicking a police officer. Frankel had faced several
highly-publicized criminal charges before the court in recent years.
Suzanne Smith, one of Michael Craver's attorneys, said the secrecy was
used "because we were hoping to pick a fair jury.
"Sometimes people read the paper and get confused," she said.
"It was very apparent from (the Cravers' jury) panel."
Smith said five prospective jurors said they could not "be fair and
impartial after what they had read." She said about half the jurors
recalled reading something about the case.
The last story on the Cravers that ran in the Daily Record appeared on
July 2 and reported that the district attorney's office had withdrawn an
intent to seek the death penalty.
Smith said her concern with publicity just before jury selection
includes information about evidence or testimony that has been excluded
"The nature of reporting is that it reveals something that
shouldn't be revealed to the jury," she said.
She said there was no overt agreement to hide jury selection from the
public, but there was an agreement not to discuss picking a jury with
the media. She said she was not involved in any decision to block such
information from the public record.
Kennedy said he told jurors not to read or watch any news coverage.
President Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh and York County Clerk of Courts Don
O'Shell said they had no specific knowledge Wednesday afternoon that
jury selection in the Craver case had taken place or that a jury had
been seated Tuesday.
O'Shell, whose office tracks all county criminal cases, also could not
explain how information put in the tracking system by his staff was
missing in the Cravers' cases.
O'Shell confirmed that, contrary to standard practice, neither a notice
of jury selection nor a trial date was on the public court calendar or
the Cravers' electronic case files.
As president judge, Linebaugh is responsible for assigning judges to
criminal or civil court. He is not involved in the assignment of
criminal cases to judges. He said he noticed jurors in the courthouse
and was aware that the Craver case was coming up, but he didn't give it
any more thought.
At a glance
Michael and Nanette Craver, of Carroll Township, are charged with first-
and third-degree murder, endangering the welfare of a child and
conspiracy in the death of their 7-year-old adopted Russian son,
Nathaniel died Aug. 25, 2009, from injuries that experts said he
suffered during a beating. An autopsy revealed more than 80 injuries,
including 20 to his head, and the boy was emaciated, according to
The Cravers were charged in Nathaniel's death in April 2010. Initially,
the prosecution sought the death penalty against the couple; however,
the death penalty was taken off the table in July because prosecutors
concluded that "substantial evidence existed" that mitigating
circumstances could prevent a jury from sentencing the Cravers to death
if they are convicted.
Nathaniel Craver's death in 2010 was one of two cases involving
adoptions from Russia that preceded that nation blocking of all
adoptions to the United States.
Russia suspended adoptions after a mother from Tennessee put her
7-year-old adopted son on a plane and sent him back to Russia because,
she said, he had "severe psychopathic issues."
Russian officials attended the Michael and Nanette Cravers' preliminary
hearing on April 29, 2010, and said afterward that they were
particularly concerned by allegations that the couple had neglected
Nathaniel Craver well before his fatal injuries.
"Russia is following the case very closely," Alexey
Veselovskiy of Russia's NTV said at the time.
The U.S. and Russia signed a new adoption treaty in July that gives
Russia more oversight of adopted children once they are brought to the
Change of venue cases
If a court is concerned that an impartial jury cannot be found in the
county where a crime occurred, the judge can move the trial to another
county. That is called a change of venue. The judge can also bring in a
jury from another county. That is called a change of venire.
Here is a sample of some criminal cases where changes of venue or venire
Jordan Wallick: Accused of killing law student James Wallmuth III in a
city park in July 2010. Venue request denied, prosecution pending.
Joanna Seibert: Convicted of homicide by vehicle for the Oct. 21, 2008,
highway death of Northern York County Regional Police Officer David
Tome. Venue request deferred, York County jury seated.
Nigel Maitland: Convicted of first-degree murder for the May 10, 2010
drive-by shooting that killed 9-year-old Ciara "CeCe" Savage.
Venue request denied.
Biagio Scotto: Acquitted of rape in a retrial in 2010. Scotto had fled
the county after being convicted in 2005. Following his capture in
England he was granted a retrial. Venue request for retrial denied.
Robert "Buck" King: Accused of the 2006 murder of Juan Laboy.
King had previously been convicted of third-degree murder for the Aug.
30, 2007, murder of Kyree "Mir" White. Venue request was
denied for Laboy homicide. Charges were withdrawn.
Toby Taylor: Convicted of third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter
and reckless endangerment in March 2009, for the Jan. 23, 2008,
electrocution of his wife, Kirsten Taylor. Venue request denied.
Stephen Frankel: Acquitted of aggravated assault on a police officer in
2009. Sought venue change because he was convicted of misappropriation
of funds and his father, Mark D. Frankel, was convicted of 58 counts of
theft in 2006 for embezzlement from their law firm. Change of venire
request granted. The jury was picked in Montgomery County and brought to
York County. Noel Gomez: Found guilty but mentally ill in June 2007 for
the November 2004 parking lot shooting of Julia Cook, a pregnant New
York woman. Venue request deferred, York County jury seated.
Glen Rock dump truck crash: Three defendants charged with the deaths of
Michelle Moser and her 11-year-old daughter, Amber McArdle, when a
Blossom Valley Farms truck crushed their car on April 11, 2003. Venue
York City Police Officer Henry Schaad murder case: Stephen D. Freeland
and Leon "Smickle" Wright were convicted of second-degree
murder in 2003 for the 1969 shooting of the officer during race rioting.
Venue request denied.
Lillie Belle Allen murder case: Nine men were convicted in 2002 of
charges ranging second-degree murder to conspiracy to commit an unlawful
act for the 1969 murder of the South Carolina visitor. Mayor Charlie
Robertson, a former city police officer, was acquitted of all charges.
Venue request deferred. York County jury seated.
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