People v. Tyburski, Docket No. 95719

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation445 Mich. 606,518 N.W.2d 441
Docket NumberNo. 6,Docket No. 95719,6
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Leonard TYBURSKI, Defendant-Appellee. Calendar
Decision Date19 July 1994

Page 441

518 N.W.2d 441
445 Mich. 606
PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Leonard TYBURSKI, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket No. 95719.
Calendar No. 6.
Supreme Court of Michigan.
Argued Dec. 2, 1993.
Decided July 19, 1994.

[445 Mich. 609] Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Thomas L. Casey, Sol. Gen., John D. O'Hair, Pros. Atty., Timothy A. Baughman, Chief of Research, Training and Appeals, Janice M. Joyce Bartee, Asst. Pros. Atty., for the people.

F. Randall Karfonta, Detroit, for defendant-appellee.

Neal Bush, Kenneth M. Mogill, Dean Robb; Susan L. Stacey, of counsel, for Criminal Defense Ass'n of Michigan and Nat. Jury Project, Amici Curiae.

Page 443

MALLETT, Justice.

The issue presented in this highly publicized murder case is whether defendant is entitled to a new trial because of the manner in which the trial judge conducted voir dire. Because the trial court abused its discretion by failing to conduct a sufficiently probing voir dire in order to uncover potential juror bias, and that, therefore, defendant was denied a fair trial, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for a new trial.


The Court of Appeals opinion sufficiently summarizes the underlying facts surrounding the murder.

Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted as charged of second-degree murder, M.C.L. § 750.317; [445 Mich. 610] M.S.A. § 28.549. He was sentenced to serve twenty to forty years in prison....

This case arises from defendant's killing of his wife on September 28, 1985. This fact is not in dispute. The case has received a great deal of publicity because of the unusual manner in which defendant disposed of the body: he stored it in a chest freezer in his basement for over three years. The body was discovered by his elder daughter on January 2, 1989.

Defendant admits killing his wife, Dorothy Tyburski, but claims that it was not murder but a killing in the heat of passion, thus manslaughter, or that he killed in self-defense. Defendant admitted the killing in his own testimony. He stated that his wife told him that she wanted him to leave for a couple of weeks and that she no longer loved him. Defendant replied that he still loved her and refused to leave. He then asked the victim whether she was having an affair with the eighteen-year-old boyfriend of their elder daughter. The victim refused to answer. She grabbed a knife and fork and went downstairs to get something out of the freezer. Defendant followed her to continue the conversation.

In the basement, the victim took some plastic containers out of the freezer. Defendant again asked her if she was having an affair with their daughter's boyfriend. The victim responded with words to the effect of, "Yes, I am. I love Craig. He's a man. You're not a man. You're a wimp, a punk, a bastard. You're leaving. Get out of here." The victim threw the frozen food containers, along with the knife and fork, at defendant as she said the words.

The victim came at defendant with her hands. Defendant pushed her away. The victim retrieved the knife and lunged at him with it. Defendant stated that he was in shock at this point over learning of the affair and afraid because of the physical attack. After he stopped the victim from stabbing him, he slammed her head into a beam many times. He then flung her into the freezer. He [445 Mich. 611] went upstairs, cleaned up, and returned to the basement a half-hour later. He noticed that the victim was motionless and was not breathing. At this point, he closed the freezer and never opened it again.

* * * * * *

As for the cause of death, the medical examiner testified that the victim died of blunt-force trauma to the head. He testified that the injuries were inflicted by hitting the victim's head into a blunt object, rather than vice versa. The medical examiner described a minimum of eleven blows to the head. Finally, the medical examiner ruled out suffocation as a cause of death. Thus, the victim was dead before defendant closed the freezer. [196 Mich.App. 576, 577-580, 494 N.W.2d 20 (1992).]

Page 444

The details of the voir dire process are important and merit thorough review.

Before voir dire commenced, defense counsel moved for an individual sequestered voir dire and submission of a probing questionnaire to be given to prospective jurors. The trial court denied these requests, informing counsel that the court conducts its own voir dire for all its trials. Defense counsel also asked if the attorneys would be allowed to ask follow-up questions. The court said no, but that if specific follow-up questions came to mind after hearing a potential juror's response to a question, the attorneys could write them down and the court would submit them.

When the questioning began concerning potential jurors' exposure to pretrial publicity, the court gave a brief description of the case and asked how many had heard of it from the media. All of the potential jurors initially seated raised their hands. 1 [445 Mich. 612] The court then began questioning individual potential jurors. The first colloquy was as follows:

The Court: All right. If you are selected as a juror, what you are going to have to do, Ms. Whitehead [sic], is basically separate what you have heard on TV or on the radio or in the newspaper and judge this case on what you hear in the courtroom. Have you developed any opinions thus far or feelings on this case one way or another as to what you've heard or read?

Juror Whiteside: Yes.

The Court: What are those feelings?

Juror Whiteside: In reading the article on it, I would tend to think that he would be guilty.

The Court: All right. Do you believe everything that you read in the newspaper?

Juror Whiteside: No.

The Court: Okay. Do you think that that is a way to settle disputes as to guilt or innocence by reading the newspaper?

Juror Whiteside: No.

The Court: Okay. If I were to tell you, Ms. Whitehead [sic], that you have to decide this case based on what you hear in the courtroom, will you be able to set aside your beliefs, set aside your opinions and listen to this case and render a fair decision?

Juror Whiteside: No.

The Court: No. Do you think what you've read thus far has tainted you to such a degree that you do not think that you could be fair to this defendant?

Juror Whiteside: Yes.

With this subtle admonishment of Juror Whiteside, the court had instructed the remaining potential jurors regarding the "correct" answer. Ms. Whiteside was excused for cause.

Likewise, the fourth and eighth potential jurors questioned admitted to having formed opinions against the defendant and that they would have [445 Mich. 613] difficulty setting aside these opinions. Although they were also excused for cause, in the court's questioning of the eighth juror, Ms. Zimmer, the entire pool heard admonitions similar to those given to the first juror. 2

Page 445

The first of those initially seated to remain as jurors were the tenth and thirteenth questioned. Number ten, Mr. Gray, was questioned as follows:

The Court: Okay. How about you, Mr. Gray, do [445 Mich. 614] you recall hearing or reading anything about this case?

Juror Gray: On the news.

The Court: Okay. As a result of what you've heard or read, did you develop any beliefs or opinions?

Juror Gray: No.

The Court: Okay. Can you think of any reason why you should not sit and be a fair juror?

Juror Gray: No.

The questioning of juror number thirteen, Mr. Traylor, was similar to that of Mr. Gray.

The Court: Okay. How about you, Mr. Traylor? Do you recall hearing about this case?

Juror Traylor: I saw it on the news.

The Court: You saw it on the television?

Juror Traylor: And I started reading an article in the paper, but I can't remember what happened. But I never finished it.

The Court: You never finished the article?

Juror Traylor: No.

The Court: Have you developed any opinions or beliefs?

Juror Traylor: No.

The Court: Okay. Can you think of any reason why you should not sit and be a fair juror?

Juror Traylor: No.

The last potential juror questioned in the morning session admitted to having formed opinions and that she did not believe she could be fair. The court replied:

The Court: You heard me tell some of the other jurors that we are not going to decide this case based on what is in the papers?

Juror Williams: Yes.

The Court: And you don't think that that's the way a society should be run, do you?

[445 Mich. 615] Juror Williams: No.

The Court: Based upon what you read in the newspapers, do you think everything is truthful?

Juror Williams: No.

The Court: Okay. But you are telling me that based on what you've read, you don't think you can separate it and be fair?

Juror Williams: Yes. I couldn't.

The court then recessed for a lunch break. During this recess, defense counsel submitted a written objection to the method of questioning used by the court. This objection was overruled.

The first potential juror questioned in the afternoon session, Mr. Rae, who was eventually seated as a juror, was asked to relate his potential bias resulting from pretrial publicity.

The Court: And how is it that you heard about this case?

Juror Rae: I think I recall a television newscast.

The Court: All right. Did you hear my statement that this case will be decided in the courtroom rather than by the media?

Juror Rae: Yes, your Honor.

The Court: Have you developed any opinions that would make you an unfair juror?

Juror Rae: No.

Juror Palmer, the third person questioned in the afternoon session was similarly asked to self-assess her potential bias.

Page 446

The Court: How is it that you heard about this case?

Juror Palmer: On the news, read the paper.

The Court: Okay. Have you developed any opinions that would make you an unfair juror?

Juror Palmer: No.

The Court: If you are to sit and listen to this [445 Mich. 616] case, will you judge this case on what you hear in the courtroom?

Juror Palmer: Yes.

The Court: Can you...

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