In anticipation of crowds gathering to support local rapper Torrence “Lil Boosie” Hatch, local law enforcement ramped up security surrounding the 19th Judicial District Courthouse on Monday as jury selection began in the rapper’s first-degree murder trial.
Several sheriff’s deputies were visible Monday morning patrolling the streets adjacent to the North Boulevard courthouse. St. Louis Street, which runs next to the courthouse, City Hall, the public defender’s office and other municipal buildings, was closed to traffic.
“Yes, that’s for the Boosie trial,” said Col. Lawrence McLeary, a spokesman for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, in an email. “I can’t discuss security issues, but the reason we’re doing this is because his fans have blogged for mass rallies.”
State District Judge Mike Erwin, who is presiding over Hatch’s trial, had to walk past a line of sheriff’s deputies and Baton Rouge police officers as he made his way through the courthouse’s jury management office and into the large jury assembly room where roughly 150 potential jurors were gathered Monday morning.
“I feel like I’m going to prison,’’ the judge quipped as he strode through the jury management office.
Once inside the jury assembly room, Erwin stood behind a lectern. Hatch — wearing a white dress shirt, light brown slacks and brown dress shoes — sat next to his attorneys, Martin Regan and Jason Williams. East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III and prosecutor Dana Cummings were seated next to Hatch’s attorneys.
Erwin gave the jury pool some preliminary instructions on laws that apply to the first-degree murder case and told them the trial could last about two weeks.
Each member of the jury pool filled out a questionnaire. The judge said questioning of prospective jurors by attorneys will begin Tuesday morning.
An anonymous jury will be seated, meaning the 12 jurors and any alternate jurors will be identified in court and in court documents only by number.
The jury will be sequestered in a hotel throughout the trial.
“It’s going to be a pretty long trial,’’ Erwin told the large group. “We’ll try to move it as quickly as we can.’’
The judge warned the jury pool to avoid media coverage of the trial in newspapers, on television or radio and on the Internet.
St. Louis Street will be closed every day the trial is in session, Baton Rouge police spokesman Cpl. Tommy Stubbs said.
The street will be opened to traffic once the trial has finished each day.
Stubbs said downtown roads can be closed anytime there’s an expectation of crowds.
“A lot of people want to watch the trial,” Stubbs said. “Plus, we still have a lot of people here with the (U.S.) Bowling (Congress). So it’s traffic on top of traffic.”
He also said some Baton Rouge police officers patrolled the block on horseback Monday because mounted patrols are called when crowd control may be needed.
However, no crowd of supporters for the rapper showed up.
“I suppose the real crowds will come for the trial and not jury selection,” McLeary said. “And we won’t turn anyone away unless they violate the law.”
McLeary did not specify a blog that was attempting to rally Hatch supporters.
But the Lil Boosie Facebook fan page, which had more than 2 million “likes” on Monday and is regularly updated with posts, reminds fans at the top of the page to “Pray 4 Justice April 30, 2012,” which was Monday and the day the trial officially began.
A fan website called Boosiejustice.com reminds people who attend the trial to “Please show respect for the court and dress in church attire.”
The top of the website reads: “Torence(sic) Hatch murders beats, not people,” and “You can help free Boosie.”
The website, which portrays Hatch as a philanthropic father, encourages supporters to contact Moore office, asking him to recuse himself from the case. It also asks supporters to contact various Baton Rouge media outlets, including The Advocate, to criticize what the website calls “extremely biased” reporting.
The website asks fans to keep writing letters of support to Hatch and to buy his album, his young daughter’s album, and an official T-shirt with proceeds going toward Hatch’s defense fund and his family, the site says.