Potential jurors in day care center murder case to fill out questionnaire

Lake County residents called to jury duty next week will fill out a multi-page questionnaire as part of the screening process for a panel to hear a murder case.

The judge and the attorneys in the Melissa Calusinski case approved a final version of the questionnaire at a court hearing Tuesday.

Calusinski, 25, faces up to life in prison if convicted in the Jan. 14, 2009 death of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan of Deerfield at the former Minee Subee in the Park day care center in Lincolnshire where she worked.

Usually, prospective jurors answer verbal questions posed by the judge and lawyers in a courtroom about their backgrounds, knowledge of the case and attitudes toward the justice system before they are selected or rejected for a jury.

In the Calusinski case, a pool of 75 to 85 jurors will be given a brief orientation, then will fill out the questionnaire before they are interviewed by the parties to the case.

The questionnaire approved Tuesday was not released to the public. However, based on the discussion of it in the courtroom, it seeks to identify potential biases on the part of jurors that may have formed because of publicity surrounding the case.

Police said Benjamin died when Calusinski, a Carpentersville resident who worked as a teacher's aide at the center, threw him to the ground when she became upset with other children.

She was twice videotaped confessing to killing Benjamin, who officials say died of a skull fracture inflicted with a force equal to a fall from a one- or two-story building.

Defense attorneys claim Benjamin died when he aggravated a pre-existing condition by repeatedly pounding his own head on the floor.

Circuit Judge Daniel Shanes told the attorneys on the case Tuesday he will inform prospective jurors that the trial could take up to three weeks to complete.

The use of juror questionnaires has been discussed in other Lake County criminal cases in the past. However, courthouse observers on Tuesday could not recall them actually being used in any cases.

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