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No jurors picked on 1st day of Hassan trial ; 48 ordered to return for questioning

No jurors were chosen Monday to determine the fate of accused murderer Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan, but the judge in the case gave Hassan back a desk and access to a law library in the Erie County Holding Center.

By the end of the first day of jury selection, 50 prospective jurors were excused and another 48 ordered to return for questioning today by Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk.

Hassan, 46, a former banker and cable television entrepreneur, has been jailed since he turned himself in to Orchard Park police about an hour after he allegedly beheaded his estranged wife, Aasiya Zubair Hassan, 37, on Feb. 12, 2009. He contends he was a battered spouse during the marriage.

An architect by training and the mother of the two youngest of Hassan's four children, Aasiya Hassan was found by police in the office of the Bridges cable station she and her husband co-founded about five years earlier. She had begun divorce proceeding a week before she was killed.

Jury selection in the case is expected to take as long as two weeks, but the only matter decided Monday concerned Hassan's desk.

Defense lawyer Jeremy D. Schwartz told the judge that when jail officials moved the 46-year-old suspect to another cell on the suspicion that he might be suicidal -- a fear Hassan loudly denied to the judge -- they took away the desk he had been using since his February 2009 jailing.

Schwartz told the judge that when Hassan was moved, jail officials also cut off his access to the jail's law library.

The judge ordered the return of a desk to Hassan's cell and a renewal of his access to the jail law library.

As jury selection in the long-delayed trial began, Franzcyk advised the first 98 prospective jurors to be "as candid and honest as you can" in expressing possible opinions about Hassan.

He advised them that if they harbor "a strong opinion" about the case one way or another, they should advise court officials so they can be individually questioned outside the presence of other prospective jurors.

Only three media representatives covered the opening of jury selection Monday morning in the basement Courtroom of the Future at 25 Delaware Ave. because of the larger-than-normal size of the jury pool.

After jury selection is complete, possibly later this week, the trial itself will be held in Franczyk's fourth-floor courtroom in the same building.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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