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Jurors to be selected for McVay sentencing for murder

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — The potentially long process to select 15 jurors was scheduled to begin Monday to decide the fate of a man who killed a Sioux Falls woman as part of a cross-country plot to assassinate the president.

The state is seeking the death penalty for James McVay, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Maybelle Schein. The 72-year-old woman was killed July 2, 2011, as she slept in her home.

The last time Minnehaha County empaneled a jury to decide the penalty in a capital murder case, it took 16 days to qualify jurors.

"Oftentimes, in these death-penalty cases, it takes longer to get a jury than it does to try the case," former State's Attorney Dave Nelson told the Argus Leader.

McVay was arrested in Madison, Wis., hours after the slaying. He told investigators and a television reporter there that he killed Schein and stole her car as part of a plot to drive to Washington, D.C., and assassinate President Barack Obama on a golf course. He also said he would kill again and that he wanted to be put to death.

McVay's attorneys have said he made the statements while he was sleep-deprived, under the influence of drugs and alcohol and influenced by his psychosis.

He pleaded guilty but mentally ill in December 2011.

Jurors will be questioned on paper, in groups and as individuals about their familiarity with the case and their feelings on the morality of the death penalty. Judge Peter Lieberman said the goal will be to qualify 59 potential jurors, then pare the list to 12 jurors and three alternates.

Potential jurors were to fill out forms Monday. The lawyers — three for each side — will review the answers Tuesday. Questioning will begin Wednesday.

The final panel will decide if McVay is eligible for the death penalty under South Dakota law. His lawyers have argued that McVay's status as mentally ill should disqualify him from a death sentence.

If jurors agree, McVay will be sentenced to life in prison without parole. If jurors disagree with the defense, they then must decide whether to issue a death sentence. The decision must be unanimous.