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Jury Selection Begins for Thomas Johnson Trial

Jury selection begins for the trial of Thomas Johnson III, the man accused of shooting and killing Rochester Police Officer Daryl Pierson.

A pool of about a hundred prospective jurors filed into Monroe County Supreme Court Justice Thomas Moran's courtroom on the fourth floor of the Hall of Justice. The pool was immediately cut in half when those in the courtroom were asked whether they could commit to the length of the trial - about four weeks, according to Judge Moran.

The potential jurors were then asked whether they knew anything about the case. Roughly a dozen people were moved to a separate room. District Attorney Sandra Doorley says this is meant to protect them from any information that might be unintentionally divulged during the jury selection process.

Finally, the group of people who remained were asked whether they could be fair in this case. About fifteen people excused themselves on the basis of impartiality.

Those who remained were given the opportunity to meet individually with the judge and legal teams for further questioning. Court officials say the selection process is expected to take several days, reducing a total of fifteen hundred people to twelve jurors and six alternates.

Johnson faces several charges, including aggravated murder of Officer Pierson and attempted murder of his partner, Officer Michael DiPaola.

One of the issues brought up prior to jury selection was the matter of the on-foot pursuit that preceded the shooting: Johnson's attorneys argued that there was not sufficient evidence to justify Officer Pierson chasing Thomas Johnson III. A ruling in their favor might have helped them fight to reduce the aggravated murder charge Johnson is facing.

The judge not only upheld that the pursuit was lawful, he went a step further. Judge Moran sited several precedents, saying that because Pierson was in a clearly marked police vehicle and wearing a Rochester Police Department uniform, Johnson knew he was an officer. The moment he pulled out a gun therefore marks the beginning of an independent illegal incident.

Johnson's attorneys also argued against the attempted murder charge because Johnson did not fire his weapon at DiPaola. The judge ruled that a gun does not need to go off for an attempted murder to occur.

Moran says he anticipates that the trial will take at least a month, with breaks on April 3, May 6, and May 12 so Jurors may reconnect with their employers and other responsibilities. The judge ruled that jurors will be permitted to go to their homes each night and return to the court each morning for opening statements.

Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.