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Jury selection begins in Betty Shelby's manslaughter trial

Betty Shelby leaving a hearing at Tulsa County District Court Dec. 15, 2016. (KTUL)

Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby's high-profile trial has begun.

Jury selection began Monday in Shelby's trial for first-degree manslaughter after she shot and killed Terence Crutcher in September 2016. Crutcher was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Shelby pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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The Tulsa County court administrator says 70 jurors were impaneled Monday, given two questionnaires that asked specifically about the shooting and about potential jurors' backgrounds. They were asked if they have read, seen, discussed or heard about the case and if they have made any public statements about it. They were also asked if they had received any information about the case that would impact their ability to be fair jurors.

For most of the morning, jurors were kept in private while members of the media searched for parking and squeezed into the courtroom. The 5th Street circle drive in front of the courthouse was closed to the public but open to large media vans, and the courthouse was more crowded than usual while many spectators complained it was too warm on the fourth floor where the trial is being held.

Shelby was not at the courthouse Monday for jury selection process but her attorney, Shannon McMurray, entered the courtroom early. The Crutcher family also did not attend but members of the Tulsa Black Lives Matter movement were there.

“We are not anti-police. We don’t say our lives matter more than anybody else’s life. But as far as all lives matter go, all lives are supposed to matter, but they don’t to all people. So when we say black lives matter, it is a declaration of saying our lives are supposed to matter like every other life,” explained Pastor Mario Johnson, the local leader of the group.

Spectators wearing Crutcher T-shirts were ordered to turn them inside out while in the courtroom.

Security at the courthouse is tight, with uniformed and plain clothes officers on patrol. Sheriff Vic Rigalado and his staff did a security walk through, and courthouse administrators told the media everyone would go through a metal detector located near the door of the Judge Doug Drummond’s courtroom.

During questioning Monday afternoon, three jurors were dismissed. Two expressed strong opinions about the case and the third is married to a reserve officer who knows Shelby.

Day one of jury selection ended around 5:30 p.m. Potential jurors are due back at the courthouse at 9 a.m. Tuesday to continue selection.

Leading up to the trial, defense attorneys and prosecutors have debated whether or not various pieces of evidence will be allowed in court, such as the full video of the shooting and Crutcher's use of PCP and his criminal history.

Local attorney Guy Fortney says picking a jury won't be easy because most people have already seen the video of the shooting.

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"You go into any coffee shop around Tulsa and ask if they've got an opinion about the Betty Shelby shooting, and you're going to get opinions about it, because they've all seen the video," Fortney said.

The Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police announced last week that it would be filing an ethics complaint against Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, who charged Shelby with manslaughter less than a week after the shooting.

Jerad Lindsey, chairman of the Board FOP Lodge 93, issued a statement Monday morning about Shelby's trial:

“Today, Officer Betty Jo Shelby will go on trial for doing her job. The District Attorney charged her before the investigation was even completed. Police officers face dangers every single day. That pressure shouldn’t intensify because of concern about public opinion and activist prosecutors. Our officers stand by Officer Betty Jo Shelby and we hope that we can move past this political trial quickly so that every Tulsan can refocus on keeping our city safe and making it a great place to live and work.”

The District Attorney's Office and the Crutcher family will not be commenting Monday.

Read more on the Terence Crutcher shooting death.

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