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Jury Selection Begins In Accused Former Soviet Arms Dealer’s NYC Trial

Viktor Bout (c) is escorted by DEA agents upon arrival in New York - Nov 16, 2010 (credit: AP Photo/Drug Enforcement Administration)

Viktor Bout (c) is escorted by DEA agents upon arrival in New York – Nov 16, 2010 (credit: AP Photo/Drug Enforcement Administration)

corn_feature Irene Cornell
Irene Cornell has been a reporter at WCBS for 40 years, and she still...
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NEW YORK (AP / WCBS 880) - Jury selection got off to a rocky start Tuesday in the arms sale trial of a former Soviet military officer known as the Merchant of Death when reporters were initially kept out of the federal courtroom.

WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell On The Case

U.S. Judge Shira Scheindlin remedied the situation when she was informed an hour into the proceeding that two dozen reporters were kept outside the Manhattan courtroom where a jury was being selected for the trial of Viktor Bout. A court spokeswoman had said there was no room.

The trial has attracted heavy interest internationally since Bout was brought to the United States last year after his March 2008 capture in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had gone for a meeting with U.S. operatives posing as anti-American rebels. His arrest set off a two-year struggle between the U.S. and Russia that ended when he was transferred to New York for trial.

Bout, 44, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges that carry a potential life sentence, maintaining through his lawyers that he is a legitimate businessman. Bout, blamed for fueling deadly Third World conflicts over the last decade, was arrested in the sting operation organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Scheindlin questioned prospective jurors to make sure they could be fair and impartial regardless of what they had heard about the case.

She told a pool of several dozen potential jurors at one point that Bout may have been involved in arms trafficking in Africa many years ago, but that it did not break any U.S. laws. No one said they were bothered by that.

But about two dozen potential jurors raised their hands when they were asked if anyone had heard of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucianarias de Colombia, or FARC, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization operating in Colombia. About three of them said they were bothered by it.

Bout is charged with conspiring to sell millions of dollars in weapons to DEA informants acting as officials of FARC.

One potential juror said she had heard “nothing positive … extreme violence.”

Another said he had heard members of the FARC were “fairly brutal.” He was later excused from the jury pool.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)