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Edward Bronson, Prominent Criminal Defense Consultant, Dies

Edward. Bronson, a political science professor whose research into potential bias was credited with improving the impartiality of criminal juries nationwide, died on April 25 at 91. Armed with commissioned surveys and studies of the predilections of potential jurors, Bronson, who taught at California State University, Chico, from 1969 to 2003, was often enlisted by defense lawyers for his advice and as an expert witness. He was particularly sought in capital punishment cases or cases in which the defendants carried added baggage because of their backgrounds or the barbarity of their crimes. He argued that the defendants in the Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon terrorist bombings be tried out of town because the jury pool had been prejudiced by publicity. His findings were cited in judges’ decisions that potential jurors could not be excluded from capital cases solely because they were opposed to the death penalty.

“Ed was particularly focused on the rights of men and women who, because of the crime charged or their race, ethnicity or both, were most likely to be at risk of being tried by jurors who were predisposed to convict and sentence the defendant to death,” said Prof. Elisabeth Semel, a director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. “Ed’s work more often took him to rural counties where anti-Native or anti-Black discrimination was entrenched, and where there was tremendous prosecutorial and judicial hostility to the notion that the accused could not be fairly tried where the crime occurred.” His analysis of pretrial publicity was cited in the decision to move the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168 people — the deadliest case of domestic terrorism until Sept. 11, 2001. Their trial was shifted to Denver, where McVeigh received the death penalty but Nichols was spared execution. They were tried separately. “The severance motion very likely saved Nichols’s life,” Jeremy Bronson said. He estimated that 40 percent of the change-of-venue applications in which his father participated were successful.

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