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Jury selection almost over in Longoria murder trial

This is a relatively small community, where a 14-year-old girl disappeared, her charred body was found and an ex-con is going to trial this week accused of murdering her after becoming obsessed with her. So there could be people who have already made up their minds about the defendant, Adam Longoria.

One of Longoria’s defense attorneys spent part of Wednesday afternoon trying to make sure that potential jurors would have an open mind and consider only the evidence before reaching a verdict in the August 2010 death of Alicia DeBolt, killed just days before her freshman high school year began.

After three days of jury selection, the capital murder trial of Longoria will get under way with opening statements Thursday morning. Lawyers on Wednesday nearly finished picking a jury to hear evidence against the 38-year-old; he has denied that he committed the crime. Lawyers will return Thursday morning to narrow a pool of 44 potential jurors to 14 who will hear evidence. Two extra people are being chosen in case a juror has to step aside.

One potential juror, who was later dismissed, said during questioning by defense attorney Jeff Wicks that he couldn’t guarantee that he might not be swayed by something already said about the case.

Another potential juror who was dismissed said it appeared to him that Longoria was getting special treatment because he got to wear a coat and tie to court rather than an orange jail jumpsuit.

Wicks also questioned potential jurors about whether they could handle having to view large photos of Alicia’s body, which was so badly burned, he said, that she had to be identified by dental information.

“You’re going to have to look at them; these are not good pictures,” Wicks said. They told him they could handle it.

Some of the potential jurors said they had relatives who went to a vigil, attended by many residents, in memory of Alicia. But they said it would not affect their ability to decide the case.

Wicks asked them if they would be biased toward Longoria if they heard allegations that he had given alcohol or marijuana to minors, and they said, “No.”

Wicks questioned two men who said they would be curious to hear Longoria testify but wouldn’t fault him if chose not to step into the witness stand because they realize he has a right to remain silent and the state has the burden to prove him guilty.

Alicia’s badly burned body was found at an asphalt plant outside the town three days after she left her home and disappeared.

Longoria, who had been released from a Texas prison before the killing and had been living with his girlfriend and her children in Great Bend, also faces a vehicle burglary and theft charge.

Among evidence jurors are expected to hear are text messages allegedly between Longoria and the girl. Prosecutors have contended that Longoria was obsessed with Alicia after meeting her at a party and lured her into a vehicle the night she disappeared. The underlying crime alleged in the capital murder charge is a sex crime based on one of three theories: either criminal sodomy, aggravated criminal sodomy or attempted rape.

Although the death penalty is possible in a capital murder case, Longoria would face life in prison without parole if convicted.

In October, one of the prosecutors, special assistant attorney general Kevin O’Connor, told Judge Hannelore Kitts that the state was choosing not to seek the death penalty based on a careful review of the facts, the conservative application of the death penalty law and how appellate courts might view the case.

In court documents, the state said it first planned to seek the death penalty partly because of the chance that Alicia had been set on fire while still alive. The law allows the death penalty in some cases where the crime occurs in “an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner.” Prosecutors later determined that she was killed and then her body was set on fire. Prosecutors have contended there is evidence that Longoria bought gasoline to burn her body.

Her family gave a brief statement in October supporting the decision not to seek the death penalty.

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