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Jury selection underway in murder trial

Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of a 43-year-old man accused of stabbing his mother to death almost three years ago in an area of lower Puna covered by lava from Kilauea volcano earlier this year.

Sean Alan Rutledge is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly slaying 63-year-old Nadean Rutledge outside her Kapoho Kai Drive home on the evening of Aug. 25, 2015. The retired information officer for the former Wai‘opae Tide Pools in Kapoho was stabbed in the back, and her nude body was found covered by a sheet on the lawn outside her home.

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Jury summons were sent to 240 individuals. There were 87 potential jurors who crowded the courtroom gallery of Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto on Tuesday, with 40-plus having been previously excused and the remainder who received summons facing possible contempt of court charges. More than a dozen were excused Tuesday after telling the judge that serving on a jury for a trial estimated to take up to five weeks would present a hardship.

Opening arguments could occur as soon as Thursday. Deputy Prosecutors Kevin Hashizaki and Kelden Waltjen are representing the state. Rutledge’s lawyers are Brian De Lima and Jeremy Butterfield.

Rutledge is a former attorney who was disbarred in New York under the name Alan Frank. He was allowed to resign from the practice of law in California instead of facing disbarment hearings.

In 2012, the Orange County Superior Court entered a $37.7 million judgment against United Law Group, co-founded by Rutledge and businessman Damian Kutzner, for duping mortgage relief clients. By then, the firm was in bankruptcy and about 1,700 class action claimants received only about $90 each.

After Nadean Rutledge’s body was discovered, Sean Rutledge became the subject of a police manhunt, with a dispatch describing him as a “wanted suspect” and “armed and dangerous.” He was arrested the following morning on a California extradition warrant alleging he violated his parole on a conviction in that state for a criminal threat to cause great bodily injury.

Although California authorities didn’t extradite Rutledge, there have been several delays in bringing him to trial. On at least one occasion, he refused to be removed from his cell to appear in court. In several early court appearances, he displayed odd mannerisms such as closing his eyes and then fluttering his eyelids rapidly.

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His former defense counsel asked for and received a mental examination for Rutledge. Psychologists Marvin Acklin and Frederic Manke and psychiatrist Martin Blinder all found Rutledge fit to stand trial.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.