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BUFFALO, MINN. — One by one, they enter a Wright County courtroom and bare their souls.

They're quizzed about their personal lives. Their hobbies. Their family relationships. Their brushes with the law. Their views on fairness and bias.

Meanwhile, an old man in a wheelchair sits at a table in front of them, hunched over a legal pad, taking notes and occasionally showing them to his attorneys. His fate will rest in their hands.

Jury selection has begun in the trial of Gregory Ulrich, charged with entering the Allina Clinic here on Feb. 9, 2021, setting off two explosive devices and opening fire with a 9-millimeter handgun, killing one clinic worker and wounding three others.

It's a long and painstaking process dictated by Minnesota court rules. Because the 68-year-old Ulrich is charged with premeditated first-degree murder, the rules of court say that each juror must be questioned individually.

It's a process called voir dire, a French phrase meaning "to speak the truth," and it takes place in every jury trial. But in a trial of this magnitude, where a possible life sentence in prison rests in the balance, the judge and attorneys take even more care than usual to ensure that the 12 jurors and four alternates will be able to fairly consider their decision in the case.

It's an area of law that's critically important, yet it may be the most difficult thing for attorneys to do well, said Joseph Daly an emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

"I could teach students how to do direct and cross-examinations," Daly said. "It's really hard to teach a student — to teach yourself — how to do voir dire and to make proper judgments.

"You're operating in feelings, emotions, guesses. You're trying to operate based on what you think this person will do in the future, and it's really tough.

"You are kind of just hoping that you have the skill to bring out what you need to bring out and find a person unbiased against your client and against you."

The prospective jurors in the Ulrich trial are office workers, farmers, printers, engineers. They're brought into court by a sheriff's deputy and sworn to answer questions honestly. Then the grilling begins, led by District Judge Catherine McPherson.

Have you followed news of this case? she asks. What do you like or dislike about your job? Can you keep an open mind and not make a decision until you've heard all the evidence?

After the judge finishes, the prosecutors and defense attorneys — two of each — get their turns. When all the questions have been asked, either side can ask that a juror be removed for cause, meaning there's an obvious reason why the person can't be fair.

One juror was removed for cause Thursday morning. In the questionnaire all prospective jurors fill out, she had made "some statements pretty derogatory to you," McPherson said, addressing Ulrich directly. Both sides agreed to excuse her.

Each side also gets what are called peremptory challenges, meaning they can excuse a juror without having to give a reason. In a first-degree murder case, under Minnesota court rules, the defense gets 15 peremptory challenges and the prosecution gets nine.

On Thursday, the fourth day of jury selection, 12 jurors had been seated by midday. One young women revealed that her brother-in-law was currently serving a prison term for involuntary manslaughter, having killed a man with his car while high on heroin.

His case was handled fairly, she said, and she doesn't hold a grudge against law enforcement or the court system. She was seated on the jury.

The voir dire process, Daly said, gives the attorneys for both sides a chance to plant a seed with jurors, offering clues to what their approach will be. It's also a chance for the attorneys to develop rapport with the people who will spend days or weeks listening to them present their cases.

"You're trying to get the jurors to like you, the lawyer," he said. "You're trying to get them to have the sense that you're [someone] they'd maybe like to have a beer with. Because then they'll pay attention to you."

Jury selection is expected to be completed Friday, with opening arguments in the case expected Monday.