Judge: Dunn jury could be seated by late Wednesday
Updated On: Feb 04 2014 11:19:08 PM EST
The judge presiding over the Michael Dunn trial is hopeful a jury in the Michael Dunn murder trial could be seated by late Wednesday and the trial could be completed by the end of next week.
Sixty-two potential jurors will return to the courthouse at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Channel 4 attorney Ed Birk said the process is tedious, but it has been moving along efficiently. He said many potential jurors were excused because they had issues with being sequestered.
"To me, it seemed to be going along pretty quickly," Birk said Tuesday afternoon. "We have 62 or 63 potential jurors who have been screened for any kinds of reasons to be dismissed, such as sick family members or job requirements they can't accommodate."
About 75 percent of those remaining in the jury pool are women, and the represented all ways of life.
"Now they're quizzing, learning about backgrounds of the potential jurors, like have they been a victim of a crime or accused of a crime, or were they related to law enforcement and other questions like that to find out if there might be any potential biases," Birk said.
Twelve jurors and four alternates will be selected for the trial.
After hearing arguments from WJXT and other media outlets that were excluded from the courtroom during jury selection, Healey allowed two media representatives into the courtroom and allowed a single, fixed camera (image shown) to feed video to an overflow courtroom, where more media could watch and listen to the proceedings.
There were a few hiccups Tuesday. The smoke alarm went off in the courthouse Tuesday morning, prompting an evacuation. Luckily, it was just burnt toast and the all clear was given minutes later.
The media got its first look inside the courtroom around 2:30 p.m., when the judge let the two reporters in and allowed a video feed showing his bench, prosecutors and the defense.
"He finally agreed that there could be two reporters in there this afternoon," Birk said. "No cameras or recording and observe as a pool, and tomorrow there will be four reporters as well as family from the victim and the defendant."
Judge Russell Healey said the trial could be completed by the end of next week.
Dunn is accused of first-degree murder in the Nov. 23, 2012, shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis during what was described as a dispute over loud music coming from an SUV full of teenagers parked outside a Southside convenience store.
One hundred potential jurors were given a questionnaire Monday where they were asked a variety of things, including personal connection to law enforcement, feelings on gun control and if they have children.
By the time court ended Monday, 36 of those potential jurors were excused. More were excused in Tuesday morning's questioning: one who said she sympathized with Jordan Davis' mother; a second woman said her son listens to loud music and she was not sure she could could be fair.
All of the jurors come from different parts of Duval County and for at least the next week their home away from home will be the Duval County Courthouse.
Once the jury is selected they will be sequestered, meaning they will be kept away from any media that could influence them while on the jury.
Birk said it's a very fine line when it comes to protecting the integrity of the criminal justice process and what the public has a right under the law to know. On Tuesday, he said the interests of the public prevailed, but it wasn't without some spirited commentary.
"Some people think why are we bothering? Why are we interfering? But it's part of the process," said Birk. "It's part of our system of open government, and it's in the Constitution. You know, the First Amendment, it's in the state Constitution."
The media had only been allowed to listen to audio of jury selection in a separate room. A hearing was held Tuesday afternoon to allow reasonable media access to the courtroom, and the judge said he would allow a video feed from a fixed monitor above the door of the courtroom. It will only show the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
For the first time, two reporters are given a front row seat to not just hear but see the jury selection process.
"The state attorney was very much against that. She doesn't want anything interfering with the trial and she's afraid having media in the courtroom is going to interfere and be a distraction to the jury," said Birk.
It's taken a long push of case law by Birk, along with other agencies, to counter the claims of both the prosecution and the defense, who in several rare instances have been on the same page.
"He was opposing the media presence and he thought it was too late," Birk said. "He was saying this should've been done weeks or months ago, and you know, we brought it up when it was appropriate to bring it up and the judge ruled in our favor nonetheless."
There have a host of complaints that media motions have slowed the process, but attorney Randy Reep, who isn't associated with the case, said while public access isn't always popular, it is critical.
"You call them your attorneys, I would call them all of our attorneys. They are protecting the First Amendment rights. Freedom of information, if you will," said Reep. "It is critical that there be a free flow of information for things to happen in an open and honest way."
When the jury selection process continues Wednesday, finding a balance between both interests will no doubt continue, but a balance, Birk says, we have a duty to fight for.
"Floridians have time and time again have reaffirmed they want their government to be operating in the sunshine," said Birk. "Public records have to be public. Government records have to be public."
Audio still cannot be recorded.
The judge said the media committee must make a proposal of exactly what it wants as far as access and bring it back later Tuesday.
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