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St. Marie murder trial: Day 4 of jury selection adds 2 more

Jury selection has begun at the Wadena County Courthouse in a case where a Wadena man is accused of killing his wife. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal1 / 2
Antonio St. Marie2 / 2

WADENA—On day four of jury selection Thursday, a whirlwind of 17 potential jurors went through the interview process before the judge and counsel with two more added to serve on the trial of the State of Minnesota vs. Antonio Eugene St. Marie. That makes 11 jurors out of 14 needed, meaning selection will continue Friday, weather permitting.

The importance of reporting for court was shown Thursday as a bench warrant was approved for the arrest of one witness, who was summoned to appear but failed to do so. Assistant attorney general David Miller of the prosecution noted that the individual acknowledged that they received the subpoena to appear but because it was not presented by local law enforcement the witness rejected it. Miller presented an affidavit for her arrest and Judge Robert Raupp approved it.

The counsel briefly discussed the weather, which was forecast to bring temperatures of 25 to 35 degrees below zero for Friday. The feeling was that bringing in witnesses on a day where schools could close could cause extra issues for those needing to find daycare and because there was still jury selection, there would be limited time to start opening statements. The State and Defense agreed and Judge Raupp of the Seventh Judicial District Court in Benton County approved not starting trial until Tuesday morning. Jury selection, however, would likely continue Friday at the Wadena County Courthouse.

The indictment against Antonio E. St. Marie, 27, of Wadena, alleges that on Nov. 7, 2016, St. Marie caused the death of his estranged wife, Margaret St. Marie. He is also accused of kidnapping his wife's brother, James Flath Jr., on the same date and location, and possessing a pistol he was prohibited from having.

Many jurors excused

In a pattern of the past few days, many of the jurors being interviewed brought opinions that the defendant was already guilty. That opinion alone or in some cases combined with opinions of bias against interracial marriage, bias against African Americans and bias against those involved in a past domestic violence incident was cause for seven of the 17 jurors to be excused Thursday.

Other reasons lead to jurors not be selected too. One juror was excused because she was the sole provider for her family. Another was excused as a relative of Margaret St. Marie. Another was excused as a daycare provider with ties to the St. Marie family. And still one more was excused due to closeness to the St. Marie family.

The defense has the ability to use peremptory strike 15 times in the selection process. That means without reason, they can remove a juror from selection. They exercised that right four times Thursday, leaving just a few strikes left before they are out. Meanwhile, the prosecution can use preemptive strike nine times. They have used two so far.

St. Marie is charged with nine felony counts. Those include: three counts of first-degree murder with intent, while committing a felony, one count of first-degree murder while committing domestic abuse - with a past pattern of domestic abuse, and one count of first degree murder, premeditated, as well as; two counts of second-degree murder, with intent, not premeditated and while under restraining order for protection; one count of kidnapping and one count of a felon in possession of a firearm. He pleaded not guilty to all of those charges.

St. Marie allegedly shot his estranged wife in her home on Bryant Ave. SE in Wadena, after holding her at gunpoint, according to the complaint filed with Wadena County Court. It stated that Margaret St. Marie's brother, James Flath, Jr., and a young child were also held at gunpoint.

While police pursued the suspect in a high-speed chase, another officer found Margaret St. Marie dead in the home from a gunshot wound, according to the complaint. Antonio St. Marie was later involved in a head-on crash with another vehicle during the pursuit and was held in an out-of-county medical facility due to his injuries before being transferred to the Crow Wing County Jail. Prior to the Nov. 7 events, court records show he was arrested and charged with felony domestic assault the week before and booked into the Wadena County Jail. He was released on bail the morning of Nov. 7 with several conditions, including no contact with the victim and no use or possession of firearms. That morning, Antonio St. Marie posted several comments on Facebook, including one that read "feeling ----ing betrayed beyond belief" along with 33 angry face emojis. A later Facebook post asked "who wants to make a quick $500."

Potential jurors included residents from Wadena County. They were first asked questions from the defense, including attorneys Malcolm Whynott and Nathaniel Welte, who are defending Antonio St. Marie. Some of the questions revolved around the residents' ability to make a fair decision, work together and to see if they let assumptions cloud their judgement. They also asked the residents if they had prior experiences in domestic abuse, substance abuse and conflict resolution to determine if they could remain impartial as a juror. It also brought up the fact that St. Marie is an African American male and his wife was a caucasian woman. The question was posed to see if jurors had any negative feeling about interracial relationships.

The residents were then questioned by the state, represented by Minnesota assistant attorney general David Miller, and Wadena County attorney Kyra Ladd. They asked residents about their history in the area, professions and ability to remain impartial in the process.

All jurors selected were instructed not to share anything about the case with anyone, not to investigate the case and not to talk with anyone involved in the case.

The state has a potential witness list of about 25 people, according to county attorney Ladd. The defense does not have quite that many, but the trial is expected to last at least one more week as those witnesses and evidence are examined.