Jury selection will begin Nov. 17 in the high-profile U-Haul murder trial, however the mood was anything but somber Friday as the defendants gathered with their attorneys at the Juvenile Court in Santa Maria.

The six defendants -- Ramon David Maldonado, David Murillo Maldonado Jr., Santos Manuel Sauceda, Reyes Gonzales Jr., Jason Castillo and Anthony Jesus Solis -- were all smiles as they joked and interacted with their attorneys Michael Scott, David Bixby, Frederick Foss, Thomas Allen, Adrian Andrade and Addison Steele, respectively.

Housekeeping issues included how the jurors will be identified during the trial. Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen, who is prosecuting the case against the six defendants, suggested that jurors be assigned a number and that number will correspond with a list that she, Judge Rick Brown and the defense attorneys, will be privy to.

Jurors names will never appear on the record, and Brown hopes that will make potential jurors feel a bit safer about serving on the jury.

During the more than two-hour hearing, Brown denied a motion filed by Foss to exclude his client Sauceda's juvenile record, telling the attorney that gang history often starts when one is a juvenile. Portions of the juvenile record will be available for Bramsen to include, but not all of it.

Jury questions were the main topic of conversation during the lengthy hearing. Steele submitted a voir dire questionnaire he wanted to utilize during jury selection, but Brown ruled without prejudice that the traditional method of oral questions would be conducted. 

"I'm telling you from experience, it will take half as long," Steele argued.

Bramsen opposed the questionnaire, calling it time consuming and told the defense attorneys that they all need to be able to witness the body language of potential jurors during jury selection.

Last month, 2,100 jury summons were sent out to Santa Barbara County residents, making it the second-largest in the county behind the 2005 Michael Jackson trial.

On Nov. 17,18 and 19, hardship cases will be heard at the Santa Maria Fairpark Fountain Pavillion, which will host jury selection and is reserved until Dec. 19, according to Santa Barbara County Superior Court Executive Officer Darrel Parker.

Of the 2,100 potential jurors summoned, 18 will be chosen — 12 as seated jurors and six as alternates — which is the total number of people a new jury box that is being constructed for the trial at the Santa Maria County Juvenile Court will hold. 

All defendants have been charged with murder in the torture and stabbing death of 28-year-old Santa Maria resident Anthony Ibarra, whose naked body was found in the back of a rented U-Haul truck parked on a residential street in Orcutt last March.

The motive for the murder was an unpaid drug debt, according to authorities who believe Ibarra was tortured and killed at a home in the 1100 block of West Donovan Road in Santa Maria prior to his body being found.

The trial is expected to last through February.