Olsen trial: Jurors offer few opinions, show minimal knowledge of case

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Judge will allow testimony about victim’s mental illness

There was little certitude among prospective jurors on Day 1 of jury selection in the murder trial of former DeKalb County police officer Robert “Chip” Olsen.

Only one person in the jury pool expressed a fixed opinion about the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

“The defendant killed someone who was unarmed,” said Juror 20, who added he obsessed over Olsen’s decision to shoot Afghanistan War veteran Anthony Hill. “I just don’t think there’s any question in my mind. Someone shooting a naked, unarmed person is wrong.”

Most of the would-be jurors knew nothing about the case, now more than 4 years old.

On March 9, 2015, Olsen responded to 911 calls from a Chamblee apartment complex about a “possibly demented” nude man walking the grounds in the middle of the day. Olsen did not know Hill suffered from bipolar disorder and was off his meds.

Once Hill, 27, spotted the officer, he began running, or jogging, toward him. Olsen emerged from his vehicle with his gun drawn. He ordered Hill to stop two times. When Hill ignored his commands, Olsen, who has claimed self-defense, fired two shots. Hill died at the scene.

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Nineteen jurors — 14 women and 5 men — were qualified from the first two panels. Olsen followed the questioning intently throughout the grueling 11-hour session.

Based on the first day of jury pool questioning, a change of venue seems highly unlikely. There’s no sense of “pervasive bias” against Olsen — his name barely registered with potential jurors questioned Monday.

Olsen’s jury pool draws from one of Georgia’s most diverse counties. A little more than half of DeKalb’s residents are black; whites make up one-third of the populace.

Race will be an unavoidable factor in the selection process. The defendant is a white ex-cop. The victim, who aspired to be a music producer, was a black male.

But this pool has already challenged some popular assumptions. Three African Americans of varying ages said they do not believe law enforcement treats blacks differently because of their race. That’s an answer sure to endear them to the defense.

Conversely, six white potential jurors said they believe blacks are treated unfairly by cops.

“As a white woman, I’ve been given warnings where I know people of color have not,” said Juror 10, who works in an art gallery. “When a white woman gets murdered, her case is going to get a lot more attention.”


State discloses plea offer rejected by ex-DeKalb cop charged with murder

Prosecutors, defense spar in advance of Olsen trial

Prior to jury selection, Dear Jackson ruled jurors will be allowed to hear limited testimony about Hill's mental health history. Prosecutors will also be able to introduce evidence about DeKalb police’s use-of-force policy, the judge decided.

Defense attorney Don Samuel had argued Georgia’s stand your ground law trumps county guidelines for its law enforcement officers and said Olsen should be treated as any other defendant would be.

The underlying felony in the murder count against Olsen alleges he violated his oath of office by not following county policy when he shot Hill.

With regard to testimony about Hill’s mental illness, the defense has argued that such evidence is irrelevant to Olsen’s guilt or innocence and could lead jurors to be overly sympathetic to Hill.

The state can ask witnesses if Hill had mental health issues. Questions about his medical discharge from the Air Force and about the medications he was prescribed — but had stopped taking before the day he died — will also be allowed.

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