Judge whittles jury pool in Bashara murder trial

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Several potential jurors were dismissed Wednesday after they said they couldn't render a fair verdict against murder defendant and former Grosse Pointe Park businessman Robert Bashara.

Bashara, who is charged with first-degree murder, is accused of hiring his handyman, Joseph Gentz, to kill his wife, Jane Bashara, who was strangled in the garage of their home in January 2012.

Two groups, each made up of 50 prospective jurors, packed Wayne Circuit Judge Vonda Evans' courtroom Wednesday.

Evans, who said she expected the trial to last four to six weeks, said she changed her mind about the number of alternate jurors she will seat. On Tuesday, she said there would be 17 people picked — 12 jurors and five alternates — but Wednesday she added a sixth alternate, "because of the length of the trial," she said.

Robert Bashara, charged with first-degree murder, is accused of hiring a man to kill his wife.

"What makes this case more difficult is the media attention it has received," the judge told the prospective jurors. "So there's a lot more information (which may affect the ability to be impartial)."

But several people admitted after seeing media accounts of the case, they could not be fair.

"Just everything I know about it," one woman said when asked why she'd told the judge she was biased against Bashara. "That's just how I feel. I don't believe I can (be fair). I'm just being honest."

She was excused, along with several others who also said they had strong opinions about the case they could not put aside.

Bashara's attorney, Lillian Diallo, told the group Gentz would be a witness.

Gentz is in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder. He said he strangled Jane Bashara at the behest of Robert Bashara, whom he said threatened to kill him unless he followed orders.

Prosecutors say Bashara had his wife killed so he could pursue his alternative lifestyle, in which he attended parties in a dungeon in a building he owned near the Detroit-Grosse Pointe Park border. During the parties, he was known as "Master Bob."

Bashara's son and daughter were among the dozens of potential witnesses on the prosecution's list, which was read to the jury candidates Wednesday. His daughter testified during his preliminary examination last year.

Diallo, says her client had no influence over Gentz, and Gentz had a long history of abusing women and children, including a 2009 case in which he allegedly attacked a child.

Bashara has repeatedly denied any role in his wife's death, although he pleaded guilty in 2012 to trying to have Gentz killed in jail. He was sentenced to a minimum of six years, eight months and up to 20 years in that case.

His earliest release date is Feb. 24, 2019.


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