Trial for accused cop killer Brian Fitch begins with jury selection

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The trial for accused cop killer Brian Fitch got underway Monday in Stearns County with jury selection, which will likely take several days to complete.

Fitch, 40, is accused of first-degree murder for fatally shooting Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick during a traffic stop on July 30. He also faces charges of attempted murder and felony gun possession for allegedly shooting at other officers who arrested him in St. Paul following a manhunt.

Fitch has pleaded not guilty.

The trial was moved out of Dakota County to Stearns County because of concerns about pre-trial publicity.

The Pioneer Press reports prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to spend the next week trimming the group of prospective jurors down from 93 to 14 – a dozen jurors and two alternates.

Jurors filled out a questionnaire Monday that focused on their background and pretrial publicity.

The newspaper reports Dakota County Judge Mary Theisen told the group not to discuss the case, seek outside information or read news coverage about it.

"If you have a question in your mind about whether or not you should be doing something, you can bet the answer is no," Theisen told perspective jurors.

Theisen scolded Fitch twice on Monday. Once was for talking with his attorney when he was supposed to be listening.

The second time she ordered Fitch to take his hands out of his pockets.

Evidence in dispute

Defense attorneys announced plans to ask Judge Theisen to exclude several pieces of evidence from the trial, including cell phone data, because it was handed over to the defense only days before the trial.

According to FOX 9, another issue that Theisen will have to rule on is whether prosecutors will be able to present evidence on their recent allegations that Fitch conspired to commit murder and tamper with a witness from his prison cell.

Attorneys will begin interviewing the jurors Tuesday. Opening arguments are scheduled for Jan. 20, and two weeks of testimony are expected to follow.

KSTP reports if Fitch is convicted of first-degree murder he would automatically be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

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