INDIANAPOLIS — A judge in Indianapolis said Friday she plans to summon up to four times the number of people she ordinarily calls for jury duty for the murder trial of a woman charged with killing her infant by eating rat poison while pregnant.
The case against Bei Bei Shuai, a Shanghai native who immigrated to the Midwest, has drawn international attention from women's rights advocates who say she is being unfairly prosecuted.
"If she had gotten an abortion, she would not have been prosecuted," defense attorney Linda Pence told reporters after the two-hour hearing.
Shuai, 36, was eight months pregnant and reeling from a breakup with her boyfriend when she ate rat poison in December 2010. The baby died three days after being delivered, and Shuai was arrested on charges of murder and feticide three months later, when she was released from treatment for severe depression. Her lawyers maintain Shuai was attempting suicide; prosecutors say she also intended to kill her fetus.
Marion County Judge Sheila Carlisle told attorneys during a pretrial hearing Friday that she anticipates calling 200 potential jurors for the Sept. 3 trial. Ordinarily, she said, only 50 people are summoned for jury duty in major criminal cases. She urged lawyers for both sides to speed up their work to meet court deadlines to make sure the trial is held according to schedule.
"I'm not sure how much more I can do to emphasize how quickly we need to get ready for trial," Carlisle said.
Prodded by the judge, Deputy Prosecutor T.K. Morris said he expects the murder trial to take three weeks. Carlisle said those weeks could be up to six days for jurors.
Carlisle said she would take special steps to speed up jury selection, including the unusual step of letting potential jurors know which case they could be hearing when called into the courthouse to fill out their jury questionnaires.
"So when jurors are filling out those questionnaires, they're going to know if this is the case they've heard about," she said.
The questionnaires were the main focus of Friday's hearing, with prosecutors objecting to a list of 15 extra questions Shuai's attorneys wanted to include.
After lengthy debate, the judge excluded proposed questions that would have asked jurors what bumper stickers were on their cars, whether they had ever considered suicide, and whether a doctor should save the baby or the mother when both of their lives are threatened.
Attorneys for both sides, however, said those questions could still be asked in open court.