donna moonda

Dr. Gulam Moonda's widow Donna Moonda of Hermitage enters federal court in Youngstown, Ohio on Monday, July 24, 2006, for an initial court appearance on charges related to her husband's May 13, 2005 death by gunshot on the Ohio Turnpike near Cleveland.

Roger M. Synenberg paused before answering.

The attorney for Donna J. Moonda had been asked if there will be enough time to prepare for her federal criminal trial on charges that she hired her lover to kill her husband, Dr. Gulam Moonda.

“It’ll have to be,” Synenberg said Friday.

U.S. District Court Judge David D. Dowd Jr., Akron, Ohio, said he had hoped to start the trial in May, but agreed to delay it another month.

Dowd said the biggest setback is Mrs. Moonda’s defense team has to be prepared for sentencing before the trial starts, even though, if she is acquitted, all that preparation would go for naught.

“It’s an enormous responsibility a defense counsel has to prepare for that second phase,” he said.

Just picking a jury will be a bureaucratic nightmare. Dowd has set aside two weeks, calling the process in a capital murder case “complicated.”

Mrs. Moonda, 47, of 2330 Trout Island Road, Hermitage, could be sentenced to death if she is convicted.

Jury selection will begin June 4, when 120 potential jurors will be summoned from the Akron area to meet with Dowd and fill out lengthy questionnaires. Another 120 will do the same the next day.

The questionnaires will be drafted with the assistance of both sides, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Cleveland, which is prosecuting the case, already has submitted a brief on how it proposes handling questions concerning the death penalty.

The answers will be given to the defense and prosecutors, and they will meet with the judge June 8-11 to determine which potential jurors should be excused and which should be recalled.

On June 12, the remaining jury candidates will be summoned to Dowd’s courtroom, where the traditional jury process will begin. Jurors will be questioned and prosecutors and the defense will each be able to excuse 20 without any stated reason, known as a peremptory challenge. Because Dowd wants to seat two alternates along with the 12 jurors, each side also will be given one peremptory challenge to the alternates.

Dowd said the courtroom will be open starting June 12 for anyone to watch.

“You might find it like watching paint dry,” he told reporters, but said he wanted the process to be “transparent.”

Dowd hopes to have a jury set by June 15 so opening arguments can begin June 18, but acknowledged it might take longer and the start of testimony could be delayed.

The jury selection details were hammered out with attorneys prior to Friday’s hearing, and announced publicly at the hearing and in an order published shortly afterward.

Mrs. Moonda, dressed in blue Medina County jail garb, nodded once when asked a question during the 20-minute hearing.

The attorneys have until Feb. 23 to file pretrial motions, and until March 15 to respond to the other side’s motions. Dowd will hold the next status conference May 7.

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