SOUTH BEND – 6 men and 8 women will decide the fate of a St. Joseph County mother accused of neglect that caused her two small children to die.
Jacqueline Wilk found her 2- and 4-year-old sons trapped in the trunk of her car outside their New Carlisle home on a hot June day in 2011.
Both boys later died.
Wilk’s trial started on Monday.
The judge called 75 people for jury duty. That’s about 25 more than normal for a case like this.
He did it because this case has been in the news a lot since those little boys died.
One of the first things the judge asked potential jurors was if they’ve heard anything about the case before Monday through local media or elsewhere and if so, would they be able to separate what they’ve heard before from the evidence presented in court?
Another question the prosecuting attorney asked – Is there such a thing as a “perfect parent” and when should the law hold parents accountable for something criminal?
In opening statements, the deputy prosecuting attorney told the jury: "You will hear (Wilk) talk about the number of times she found the 2-year-old locked in the trunk of the car, trapped, calling for help, and you will hear her say on that occasion she was there and she heard him. This had happened before. As important are the things you will hear the defendant say are the things you will not hear the defendant say. All she had to do was lock the car."
Wilk’s lawyer then said, "The state will try to convince you that she either intended this result or she didn’t care. She was aware that by letting the children go upstairs to watch television for a few minutes while she was watching television downstairs for 20 minutes. Less than that amount of time that she’s responsible for it, it’s her fault. It’s her fault this happened."
Her attorney added, "She was brokenhearted. It was the worst thing that ever happened to her in her life. And yet, the state will try to convince you that she either intended this result or she didn't care."
The prosecutor told jurors, "We don't really want to spend time thinking about the last minutes of the two lives that ended that day because it really is too horrible to think about."
The state must prove to the jury that Wilk, who is now 25-years-old, knowingly put her two little boys in a situation that endangered their life or health when they became trapped in the trunk of her car nearly two years ago.
In past court hearings for this case, the prosecuting attorney said the state will show four different factors contributed to the boys’ deaths, but we aren’t sure yet what those factors are.
As far as a defense strategy, it appears as though Wilk’s lawyer will rely heavily on the argument that “every parent has lost sight of their children for a few minutes” and that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve done anything criminal.
At least half of the jury members have children.
Tuesday morning, jurors will begin to hear evidence in the case.
It’s expected to go to the jury by Wednesday or Thursday.
There are 11 people on the witness lists, including 6 police officers, Wilk's mother, Wilk's stepfather, the medical examiner who performed autopsies on the two little boys and two neighbors who would testify that they saw the boys playing outside, unsupervised, on "numerous occasions."
It’s not clear yet whether Wilk will testify, but she will be given the option to do so.