ITHACA, N.Y. — Three men and a woman were the first to be chosen Tuesday to serve on the jury for the murder trial of Benjamin Cayea, who is accused of killing his girlfriend on Thanksgiving Day in Cayuga Heights.

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

“This issue about intent to cause the death of Shannon — that’s going to be a big issue in this trial,” Bonavia told jurors.  “I don’t believe there’s going to be an issue over who caused her death.”

According to police records, Cayea admitted to strangling Jones after the two got in a fight.

Benjamin Cayea leaves the courtroom Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m sorry you guys have to deal with this,” Cayea said to police, the records state. “I’m sorry your guys had to find her like that.”

During the jury selection, Van Houten and Bonavia asked jurors a series of questions that regarded topics including domestic violence, mental illness, the use of marijuana, and sex acts that some might consider non-traditional.

“If you’re walking along a cliff, some of that responsibility is yours,” Van Houten said. “If you heard that the sexual behavior was dangerous, how would you feel about that?”

He 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.

Of 36 jurors questioned Tuesday, none said they would be biased toward any verdict because of what consenting adults choose to do sexually. But jurors also said they agreed that people who put themselves in dangerous situations have at least some responsibility for the outcome of those actions.

Bonavia said that the case cannot be thought of simply as whether someone consented to dangerous behavior.

He asked whether it would be considered murder if two people were on the ledge of a dangerous cliff and one of them pushed the other off the ledge.

All jurors who were questioned about that scenario agreed that shoving a person off a cliff would be murder.

A second round of jury questioning was complete Tuesday but no jurors were selected because court was adjourned around 4:15 p.m.

At least 14 people — 12 jurors and at least two alternates — are scheduled to be selected by Wednesday afternoon. The trial is set to start Friday.

Judge Joseph Cassidy said he expects the trial to last two or three weeks.

Reporter Jolene Almendarez will be be tweeting live from the courtroom Wednesday during the second day of jury selection. Tweets can be found using #Cayea and will be updated live on The Ithaca Voice. 


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.