SOUTH BEND – The judge's first question was the lowest of thresholds:
How many of you, St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Jane Woodward Miller asked, have heard something about this case -- which accuses grandmother Dellia Castile of ignoring the violent child abuse going on within her own home?
Of the 21 potential jurors in the room, 20 raised their hands.
On Monday, Miller presided over the first day of jury selection in the trial of Castile, who has been charged with three counts of neglect of a dependent, each count a Class B felony, following the death of 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis at his family home in November 2011.
Tramelle's father, Terry Sturgis, was convicted by a jury in May and sentenced in June for murdering his son, as well as abusing and injuring two other sons, ages 8 and 14. During that trial, the two surviving sons testified about multiple instances of abuse; most of which occurred in the basement of the house they shared with Castile and other relatives.
Castile has been accused of ignoring the signs of her grandchildren's abuse, including failing to mention it to Child Protective Services workers who were sent to the home to investigate abuse claims.
But Castile, who has been in jail since shortly after Tramelle's death, has denied the charges and, in an interview with WSBT-TV before she was charged, said she knew nothing of the abuse.
"I've never seen anything like this from my son, ever," Castile said then. "I don't know what happened, what went wrong, I just don't know."
On Monday, Castile appeared in court wearing gray slacks, a green long-sleeved shirt and sneakers. She also appeared without a walker, although she told Judge Miller that she was recently given one by jail staff after frequent requests.
As part of the trial procedures, Castile will be able to use the walker traveling to and from the courthouse, but will not use it in the courtroom.
Although nearly all of the potential jurors admitted to having heard something about the case, that fact alone didn't exclude them from the jury pool.
Instead, potential jurors were interviewed individually in the courtroom, with Miller asking questions about how much they knew about the case, where they had heard it and would they be willing to set aside past information to listen to all the evidence presented during the trial.
The vast majority of the potential jurors -- 16 of the 21 -- said they could give Castile a fair trial, although some seem conflicted by the decision.
A teacher for the Penn-Harris-Madison school district said she was willing to set aside what she knew about the case, but said she found it hard to forget about the cases of abuse she had seen in her own classroom.
A mother of four, who said she had heard Castile's interview on TV before she was arrested, said she'd have a hard time forgetting what news accounts has reported.
Both, however, agreed that they could be impartial and were waived on to the next round of questioning, which is scheduled for late Tuesday afternoon.
Miller said she will continue to question more potential jurors Tuesday -- moving forward with those who fit through the "widest gate," meaning those who said they were willing to be impartial.
During Tuesday's secondary level of questions, attorneys on both sides are expected to ask more pointed questions about backgrounds and conflicts to further narrow down the list of jurors to the final 14.
Miller said her hope is to have a jury in place by the end of Tuesday, although she is leaving open the possibility that jury selection could stretch into Wednesday.
The plan, Miller said, is to begin hearing evidence on Thursday, with the trial scheduled to go late into next week.
Miller told several potential jurors that the trial was scheduled to last until next Friday, but would likely end on Wednesday or Thursday that week.
Staff writer Dave Stephens: