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Embassy bombing trial jury selection recesses for holiday weekend
NEW YORK (CNN) -- After eight days in closed-door sessions, prosecutors and defense attorneys have retained 61 people toward a final jury pool in the first trial stemming from the August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
The court questioned 21 prospective jurors Friday, keeping nine and rejecting 12. The candidates come from a pool of slightly more than 1,300 people who filled out and mailed in 96-question surveys last month.
U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Sand is leading one-on-one interviews as the court assembles a smaller pool of approximately 80 people for a second round of questioning and final selection. The jury will be comprised of 12 people and six alternates.
The four defendants standing trial are alleged Kenya embassy bomber Mohamed al-'Owhali, 23, a Saudi national; alleged Tanzania embassy bomber Khalfan Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian; alleged Kenya embassy bomber Mohamad Odeh, 35, of Jordan; and Wadih el Hage, 40, a naturalized American.
El Hage is the alleged former personal secretary to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, whom prosecutors charge with masterminding the embassy bombings as part of a decade-long, worldwide conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and destroy U.S. government property.
Bin Laden is one of 13 fugitives not being tried. Four defendants in U.S. or British custody are expected to stand trial at a later date.
For the second day in a row, Judge Sand spent significant time telling prospective jurors how the death penalty is imposed.
Two defendants, al-'Owhali and Mohamed, could face the death penalty if convicted.
Sand told potential jurors that "if" any penalty needs to be imposed, there would be two separate verdicts -- one for the guilt phase and one for the sentencing phase, and that a death sentence needs to be unanimous.
Despite the early talk about punishment, Sand said of the defendants, "They are presumed innocent. The indictment is just an accusation."
Court will be closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday, and jury selection will resume Tuesday at 930 a.m.
Sand says, "We are also struggling to get a jury that includes people that have responsibilities." Alluding to potential hardship excusal requests, Sand says, "Understand if we deny your request for a hardship excuse, it's because it's important to have a balance" on the jury, "a jury we'd like to have sit on our own fate were we ever in such a position."
Jury selection continues in embassy bombing trial
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