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Location: Houston, Texas, United States

My name is David Stone. I live in Houston, Texas. I am a 30-something single white male. I am an Orthodox Christian and am a member of an English-language parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jury Picked for Second Vioxx Trial

Jury picked, openings set for Wednesday in second Vioxx trial

Associated Press Writer

September 13, 2005, 4:21 PM EDT


One's a stay-at-home mom. Another is a veteran prosecutor. One is married to a retired surgeon. Another is an eighth-grade reading teacher. One works as a bookkeeper at a china manufacturer. Another works in accounting at a hotel.

Along with four other people, they will try to answer a $50 billion question: Is withdrawn painkiller Vioxx to blame for a heart attack suffered by Frederick "Mike" Humeston?

The seven woman and three men were chosen Tuesday to hear Humeston's product liability suit against manufacturer Merck & Co., which pulled Vioxx off the market last September after research linked the popular arthritis drug to increased risk of heart attack and stroke after 18 months' use.

The case, which is being heard in a courthouse two blocks from the casino strip, promises a high-stakes showdown pitting the 60-year-old Boise, Idaho, postal worker against the pharmaceutical giant. Rocked by a $253 million verdict in a similar case last month in Texas, Whitehouse Station-based Merck now must persuade a home-state jury that Humeston's medical problems and sedentary lifestyle _ not Vioxx _ led to his Sept. 18, 2001 heart attack.

Analysts say the company, which plans a case-by-case fight in defending itself against thousands of civil suits over Vioxx, could end up paying as much as $50 billion in settlements and jury awards over the coming years.

Opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday in the trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks.

On Tuesday, the focus was on the would-be jurors, 325 of whom had each filled out an 87-item questionnaire that quizzed them about topics ranging from their employment and marital status to their feelings about drug companies and lawyers.

In court, Superior Court Judge Carol E. Higbee asked whether they had any links to Merck, had ever taken Vioxx or knew anyone who did, knew any of the attorneys or other jurors, or felt they could be impartial in deciding the case.

Some were former Vioxx takers; they were dismissed as soon as Higbee heard them say it.

"I was on Vioxx a couple years, and ..." said one man, his response interrupted by Higbee, who cut him off to prevent him from sharing his opinion of it in open court. "Alright, we'll excuse you," she said.

A middle-aged man who walked with a cane told her he had taken it, too, and she dismissed him. "I'd rather have my Vioxx," he said as he walked out.

Others were excused after persuading Higbee their service on the panel would be a hardship for them personally, or telling her they couldn't be impartial.

Attorneys for Merck and Humeston said they were pleased with the jury's makeup; each exercised only four of their allotted six challenges to excuse people they didn't want on the panel, which will be narrowed to six people for deliberations once all the testimony has been presented. The remaining four people are alternates.

"Love it. We're thrilled," Chris Seeger, Humeston's lead counsel, said of the selections. "The people are right down the middle. We're going to get a fair shot, and that's all we ask for."

He said he didn't think Merck's status as a New Jersey company would hurt his cause with jurors.

Jim Fitzpatrick, a Merck lawyer and spokesman, would not discuss his side's strategy in picking the panel.

"I wouldn't portray it one way or the other," he said. "We're focused on presenting our evidence. We believe the evidence is very strong that Vioxx was not involved in Mr. Humeston's heart attack."

Humeston, who survived the heart attack, is to testify in the trial, as is his wife. Seeger's first witness is to be Humeston's personal physician, Dr. Gregory Lewer.


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