Seven anonymous jurors were tentatively accepted Tuesday at the first-degree murder trial of Baton Rouge rapper Torrence “Lil Boosie’’ Hatch following a battery of questions from the presiding judge, a prosecutor and one of Hatch’s attorneys on topics ranging from “gangsta rap’’ to extensive media coverage of the case.
State District Judge Mike Erwin told the five women and two men to report back to the 19th Judicial District Court on Thursday morning and be prepared to be sequestered in a hotel beginning Thursday night.
Erwin said opening statements from the prosecutor and Hatch’s attorneys could come as early as Thursday morning, depending on how many jurors are selected Wednesday. Twelve jurors and two alternate jurors will be empaneled. The jury’s verdict does not have to be unanimous.
“Torrence is ready to have his case heard,’’ Jason Williams, one of Hatch’s attorneys, told reporters.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty against the 29-year-old Hatch for the alleged murder-for-hire of Terry Boyd, 35, who was shot to death through a window while he was inside his Vermillion Drive home Oct. 21, 2009.
Hatch is accused of paying Michael “Marlo Mike’’ Louding, also of Baton Rouge, to kill Boyd. Louding, now 19, was 17 at the time and also is charged with first-degree murder in the killing but is not eligible for the death penalty because of his age.
Erwin, prosecutor Dana Cummings and Hatch attorney Martin Regan questioned 14 prospective jurors Tuesday who were identified in court only by number. Jurors were first questioned in groups of three about media coverage of the case, then as a larger group about other issues.
Seven were excused, including five for hardship reasons and two others after it was determined they could not be completely fair and impartial because of their exposure to media coverage of the case.
Potential juror No. 496, a middle-aged white man, was excused in part after he raised concerns about Hatch’s “effects/influence on the youth of this community.’’
Regan at one point described Hatch’s music as “gangsta rap.’’
Prospective juror No. 362, a middle-aged white female who was not excused, told Regan she had never heard of Hatch.
“I take it from your responses you’re not a fan of rap,’’ Regan said to the woman.
“I’m a middle-aged woman,’’ she replied with a sheepish grin.
Erwin ruled last week that prosecutors can play some of Hatch’s violence-laden rap lyrics at the trial. Cummings has said she considers some of Hatch’s lyrics “admissions’’ and will use them to demonstrate Hatch’s “intent, motive and plan.’’ Hatch’s attorneys argue the lyrics have nothing to do with the alleged crime and prove only that Hatch is a rap artist.
Potential juror No. 192, an older black woman who was not excused, said rap “is not my cup of tea.’’ She also told Cummings she heard Hatch had been charged with murder “because of the lyrics of his music.’’
“That sounded odd to me,’’ the woman said. “I just thought it was weird, being prosecuted for the lyrics of his music.’’
Cummings strongly hinted to the potential jurors that they will hear from Louding. She drew a swift objection from Williams when, while discussing what types of evidence a jury might expect to hear in a murder-for-hire case, she asked rhetorically, “Are you going to have to make some kind of deal with him?’’
After a private bench conference with Cummings and Hatch’s attorneys, Erwin sustained Williams’ objection and told the prospective jurors that the question the prosecutor posed is “not one she’s allowed to ask’’ during jury selection.
Louding is charged in five other killings over a 14-month span, beginning with the Feb. 9, 2009, shooting death of local up-and-coming rapper Chris “Nussie” Jackson, and ending with the April 1, 2010, double-murder of Charles Matthews and Darryl “Bleek” Milton.
Louding is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Jackson; Marcus Thomas on April 25, 2009; and Matthews and Milton. He also is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Michael Smith on Dec. 18, 2009.
Louding was 16 at the time of Jackson’s and Thomas’ deaths.
Adrian Pittman, 38, of Baton Rouge, also is charged with first-degree murder in Boyd’s death.
Hatch, Louding and Pittman have pleaded not guilty.
Hatch is serving an eight-year prison term after pleading guilty in November to charges that accused him of conspiring to smuggle drugs and other illegal contraband into Dixon Correctional Institute and the Louisiana State Penitentiary.