In the summer of 2006, people throughout the Valley wondered who was lurking in the shadows and killing at random.
Two anonymous sets of serial killers were making headlines nearly every day, and their body counts were rising. Was it a sick sport? A message? An act of terrorism?
On Wednesday, prosecutors will begin to try to answer some of those questions as they launch the trial for a Mesa man who became the prime suspect in one of those sprees, Dale Hausner.
Hausner has been charged with killing eight people and wounding at least 17 others during a yearlong rampage, known as the Serial Shooter slayings, with his roommate, Sam Dieteman, who has already pleaded guilty to two of the murders.
The trial promises to be marathon length, with prosecutors steadily documenting what was perhaps the longest, most heinous string of crimes in Arizona history and trying to pin it squarely on Hausner, who has long denied any involvement in the shootings.
Roland Steinle, the judge overseeing the case in Maricopa County Superior Court, has already scheduled a holiday break near the end of the year, and Hausner’s defense attorney warned at a hearing earlier this year the trial could carry on through Easter 2009.
At stake is Hausner’s life. Maricopa County prosecutors Vince Imbordino and Laura Reckart are seeking the death penalty if they win a conviction against the 35-year-old.
First, though, the prosecution and defense teams will have to find a 12-person jury willing to serve the lengthy duration and come out with a fair verdict.
Because the trial has been so high-profile, that won’t be easy to do, said Jan Mills Spaeth , a professional jury consultant.
“Research has shown that most people who follow the news have: One, formed an opinion before they get to trial; and two, that opinion is typically 'guilty,’ ” said Spaeth, the head of Arizona Jury Research in Tucson.
Last month, Hausner’s attorney, Kenneth Everett, asked for the trial to be moved away from the Valley for that very reason. He argued Hausner was portrayed as a monster by the media and government bigwigs. Most potential jurors in the Valley, he said, would have seen the news coverage and been irreparably biased.
Steinle, however, disagreed. He vowed a fair jury would be found locally.
Spaeth said the pseudo-celebrity nature of the case may create another problem for jury selection.
“When you get a case that has a lot of notoriety, you get a lot of people who want to be on it,” she said.
Odds are good that some people may even lie or bend the rules to try to get on the jury, she said.
For example, Spaeth said, studies have shown that a third of potential jurors have close ties with someone in law enforcement, but fewer than 10 percent actually tell the court about them.
Such ties could disqualify a person from serving on the jury, but a person who really wants to stay on could simply omit that fact.
Spaeth estimated attorneys in this case may have to weed through as many as 400 people before they get down to 12 solid jurors and a number of alternates.
“You’re going to have a lot of people that followed the case,” she said.
The selection process alone could take a month, Spaeth said.
After that, the meat of the trial will begin with opening arguments from both sides.
Prosecutors will work to establish that Hausner was the common thread between the homicides.
In the past, police have said forensic evidence put him at the scenes of several of the killings, but the state also has two big guns at its disposal.
The first is a series of secret audio recordings of conversations between Hausner and his roommate, Dieteman.
On the recordings, the two reportedly boasted about the shootings and talked of plans to kill more people.
The other weapon prosecutors have is the testimony of Dieteman himself, who earlier this year agreed to plead guilty to his role in the murders and help with the case against Hausner.
At a court hearing this month, Dieteman already testified that he and Hausner took part in “random, senseless destruction.”
Hausner’s attorney said Dieteman is creating grand tales to persuade prosecutors to spare him from death row.
At the hearing Dieteman said he was willing to face the death penalty, which prosecutors have said they still intend to seek.
No matter what in the trial, one thing is clear. It will bring up more about the summer of 2006 than most Valley residents care to remember.
At the time, some were so afraid of the Serial Shooter and Baseline Killer that they decided to alter their routines rather than risk falling victim to the plague of slayings.
Parents kept their children indoors. Some people looked twice around every corner and at every set of suspicious eyes.
To this day, Hausner denies having any role in the killings. However, prosecutors are likely to bring up, as they have in past court hearings on the case, that no serial-style killings have taken place since his arrest.