Jury selection could last a week in the capital murder trial of a man accused of killing his girlfriend and her two children that is scheduled to begin Monday in Amite, attorneys trying the case said.
State District Judge Wayne Ray Chutz ordered 500 people summoned for jury duty, according to court documents.
That's about 200 more than normal, said Clerk of Court Julian Dufreche, whose office sends out jury notices.
Jury selection could take anywhere from a couple of days to a full week, the attorneys said.
"Anyone that has heard about the case, we are going to be very suspect," said defense attorney Michael Thiel. "We are looking for people who can consider mitigating factors and come in with an open mind."
The trial could last from four days to a week, said Assistant District Attorney Don Wall.
Michael Varnado, 33, is accused of the Feb. 16, 2007, smothering death of his girlfriend, Juana Quantrell Roberts, 20, of Hammond; setting her Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer on fire; and leaving her infant and toddler behind in the burning trailer.
The children died of smoke inhalation, investigators have said.
Before jury selection can begin, Chutz will hear two defense motions: one to change the venue and another to recuse the District Attorney's Office.
"We believe the media exposure and knowledge of the public about the case would prevent Michael from getting a fair trial and us from getting jurors who have a clean slate," Thiel said.
"I will be shocked if we can't get a jury," said Wall.
The second motion came out of an abundance of caution, Thiel said.
"There was an individual who worked for the Public Defender's Office and during the prep of Michael's defense sat in on some of the strategy sessions," he said. "That person has been hired by the district attorney."
Thiel stressed that he wasn't accusing the person of revealing any privileged information, but wanted to get the motion on the record.
If Varnado is convicted of first-degree murder, a second trial would begin to determine whether he would receive the death penalty or life in prison, Wall said.
Varnado also has been indicted on a charge of aggravated kidnapping, Wall said.
In that case, Varnado is accused of kidnapping an elderly woman in Mississippi and forcing her to accompany him as he drove to Hammond after the fire which killed Roberts and her children, Wall said.
Varnado's trial originally was scheduled for Aug. 19, 2008, but was delayed due to scheduling conflicts from Assistant District Attorney Don Wall and defense attorney Mike Thiel.
It was postponed again in July and August of 2010.
Those delays were caused by a strand of hair that was lost at the State Police Crime Laboratory and then found months later.
In July, Thiel said he had sent the hair to a DNA lab in Texas.
In July, Chutz ruled that portions of recorded interviews that contain hearsay are inadmissible.