Jury with Oprah Winfrey convicts man of murder; she calls experince `an eye-opener'

Tuesday, August 17th 2004, 1:41 pm

By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Oprah Winfrey plans to bring her experience as a juror on a murder trial to her TV show next week, saying her three days in the jury box were a ``reality check.''

Winfrey was one of 12 jurors who convicted a Chicago man of murder Wednesday after a routine trial that turned into a media magnet because of the billionaire.

``I think it was an eye-opener for all of us,'' Winfrey said in the Cook County Criminal Courts Building lobby, flanked by other jurors. ``It's a huge reality check; there's a whole other world going on out there. ... When your life intersects with others in this way, it is forever changed.''

Jurors deliberated for more than two hours before convicting 27-year-old Dion Coleman of first-degree murder in the February 2002 shooting death of Walter Holley, 23.

``It was not any easy decision to make,'' Winfrey said. ``All of us have taken to heart this decision.''

Coleman is scheduled to be sentenced next month and could face 45 years to life in prison.

Winfrey, who was paid $17.20 a day, said she plans to do a show next week with other jurors.

One of them, Suzanne Goodman, said having a big star on the jury wasn't a distraction.

``It was a lot of fun; it was like being on her show,'' said Goodman.

More than a dozen reporters and sketch artists filled the seats in the cramped courtroom. Winfrey called all the attention distracting.

``This is not good for the victim's family. ... This is not about Oprah Winfrey. The fact is, a man has been murdered,'' she said.

Before she was chosen for the jury Monday, Winfrey said she thought she was too opinionated to be picked. But afterward she said she was fair.

Prosecutors said the Coleman and Holley had argued over a counterfeit $50 bill, and Coleman shot Holley 11 times. Defense attorneys argued that several of the state's witnesses were not reliable.

``She was accepted by both parties and we want fair, intelligent jurors on a jury whether it's Miss Winfrey or anyone else,'' said prosecutor Kathy Van Kampen.

Defense lawyer Cynthia Brown said she had thought Winfrey would be a good juror because she has been a lawsuit defendant _ in a 1998 defamation case brought by Texas cattlemen _ and might better understand what it's like to be accused of something. A jury exonerated Winfrey.

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