Kenneth Cusick
Kenneth Cusick

OTTAWA — A jury of six men and six women, plus three alternates, will decide late next week whether Kenneth Cusick killed his wife in 2006 by drowning her in a home toilet.

Opening statements begin Wednesday in the case against Cusick, who faces 20-60 years in prison if convicted of first-degree murder. Tracy Cusick died under suspicious circumstances but the case took a long, circuitous progression, and charges against Kenneth weren’t filed until 2017.

The case was much-publicized and Cusick’s trial judge set aside two full days in search of jurors with limited knowledge of the case or at least who hadn’t reached an irreversible conclusion. Two days were sufficient, but just barely: The 12th juror was selected mid-afternoon Tuesday and attorneys spent the remainder of the afternoon searching for three acceptable alternates.

Three alternates is not a typical number. Earlier in jury selection, Judge Cynthia M. Raccuglia said two would be needed, though she appeared to change her mind after a disruption forced her to send home 15 prospective jurors.

Raccuglia was alerted to a juror said to be discussing Cusick relations whom she knew. Accounts varied — one woman said it was a group discussion, another alleged it was a lone actor — but Raccuglia had specifically told jurors not to engage in any such talks.

“You should be ashamed,” Raccuglia told the now-tainted room of 15. “This is the first time in (my) 27 years this has happened and I’m so disappointed.”

The judge then held a closed-door conference. There was no explanation or public comment, but when Raccuglia returned to the bench, the number of alternates sought was raised to three.

Pre-trial publicity was the single biggest concern — many would-be jurors were excluded due to their familiarity with the case — but attorneys tried to ferret out jurors with other pre-conceived notions, too.

La Salle County state’s attorney Karen Donnelly asked jurors whether they had done any at-home plumbing, asking several who answered “yes” whether they had ever installed a commode.

Lawyers from both sides asked if the jurors were familiar with the drug methadone and had relatives who’d been victims of domestic violence, drowning or near-drowning or suicide.

Having found a seemingly neutral jury — but with three backups in the wings — lawyers now are ready for what defense attorney Ryan Hamer called a “battle of pathologists,” with paid experts lined up to provide disparate theories of how Tracy Cusick died.

Prosecutors are expected to rest Monday, Dec 9 and the defense will trot out their experts the following three days. Closing arguments are targeted for Friday, Dec. 13.

Jurors are in for a long two weeks but necessarily long days. Raccuglia hinted there may be early dismissals if, as expected, experts complete their testimony early and with no one immediately lined up for the witness stand.

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or TCollins@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Court.

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