ITHACA, N.Y. — After two days and nearly 11 hours of questioning, a jury was selected Wednesday for the murder trial of Benjamin Cayea, who is accused of strangling his girlfriend on Thanksgiving Day in Cayuga Heights.

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Eight men, four women and three female alternates were selected to sit on the jury by around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Cayea is charged with second-degree murder and, according to police records, confessed on video to killing Cornell student Shannon Jones.

During the jury selection process, defense attorney Matt Van Houten and Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia kept circling around one primary idea when questioning potential jurors: whether they would be able to use evidence presented to determine Cayea’s intent on the night Shannon Jones was strangled.

Benjamin Cayea

Related: Tompkins lawyers say jurors must decide if Benjamin Cayea intended to kill girlfriend

An analogy the lawyers used throughout jury selection was about two people standing on the ledge of a cliff.

Van Houten asked jurors whether someone would be accused of murder if they convinced the person they were with to jump off the cliff with them.

Bonavia said the analogy would better pertain to the case if two people were standing on the ledge of the cliff and one pushed the other off the ledge.

Both attorneys asked jurors questions about their experience with or opinions about topics such as domestic violence, mental illness, marijuana use, graphic images, and sex acts that some might consider non-traditional or dangerous.

During the first day of questioning, Van Houten specifically asked jurors how they felt about BDSM — a kind of sex that involves bondage or submissive and dominant role play — and whether they would be able to be unbiased about the defendant’s or victim’s lifestyle choices.

Judge Joseph Cassidy said he expects the trial to last around two and three weeks and will start around 9 a.m. Friday.

During jury questioning, Cayea often took notes in a notebook and his face remained unexpressive, except for on one occasion.

A potential juror who said she knew Jones began crying when confirming that it would be difficult to consider the facts of the case in a non-biased way.

Cassidy, who first confirmed that the lawyers did not have further questions for the woman, excused her from jury selection.

As the woman exited the courtroom crying, Cayea kept his eyes cast down and continued facing the remaining potential jurors.


Round-up of previous coverage

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.