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Jury selection begins in murder trial

Trial of accused child killer Donald L. Cockrell could take six weeks to reach a verdict


The trial of Donald Lee Cockrell, 30, began Monday without any courtroom activity.

Cockrell is accused of aggravated murder and criminal mistreatment in the January 2010 death of his 3-year-old daughter, Alexis M. Pounder.

Donald L. Cockrell, accused child killerInstead of courtroom proceedings, Judge Susie L. Norby was in the jury room giving and receiving information from about 150 potential jurors. During this week, that pool of potential jurors will be reduced to the 12 jurors plus two alternates whom both attorneys eventually accept.

Meanwhile, Monday morning near Norby’s courtroom, defense attorney Jenny Cooke met her witnesses who had been subpoenaed to appear. She simply told the witnesses they are under order of the court to appear when called — probably in two or three weeks.

Even though the length of this trial depends on several factors, Cooke told The Post on Monday she expects to begin her defense (after the prosecution’s case) near the end of January, with the six-week trial ending sometime in mid-February.

Leading the prosecution is Deputy District Attorney Christine Landers, who has among her witnesses a person she believes will be key in prosecuting this case.

Michelle N. Smith, admitted child killerAccording to a plea agreement, Michelle Nicole Smith, 27, will testify against her former fiance. In return for that testimony, Smith will be sentenced to 30 years behind bars without parole.

Smith pleaded guilty last year to one count of aggravated murder, three counts of murder by abuse and four counts of criminal mistreatment in connection with the death of Cockrell’s daughter.

Cockrell and Smith were arrested Jan. 10, 2010, after authorities were called to her parents’ home at 22050 Cottontail Lane, southeast of Sandy, where the two families were living — her parents on one level and Cockrell, Smith and five children on another level.

Sheriff’s deputies were called to the residence at the reported death of Cockrell’s 3-year-old daughter.

Deputies who investigated the incident allege that one or both adults beat and starved the toddler until she died.

An autopsy performed by Dr. Larry Lewman of the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office revealed the little girl died of “physical and nutritional child abuse.” A court document identified the reason for death as blunt force trauma and starvation.

Cockrell’s other child showed similar signs of abuse, Landers told The Post soon after the arrest. All four children were taken into protective custody, according to a Sheriff’s detective.

Both have been held without bail for the past three years in the Clackamas County Jail.

If Cockrell is found guilty of aggravated murder, there are three sentence options, including life in prison without parole, or the death penalty if all 12 jurors agree, or life behind bars with parole after 30 years if 10 jurors agree.

The trial is scheduled to continue daily in Norby’s courtroom at the Clackamas County Courthouse in Oregon City.