Inverness gears up for trial's spotlight
City leaders meet with journalists about ground rules for the John Couey trial. Businesses will also be prepped for visitors.
By EDDY RAMIREZ and JORGE SANCHEZ
Published June 20, 2006
INVERNESS - Court, law enforcement and government officials are gearing up for the journalists, satellite trucks and video cameras that will be in town next month for the John Couey trial.
Officials seek to avoid problems that could disrupt the proceedings and reflect poorly on Citrus County.
"We want to be prepared,'' City Manager Frank DiGiovanni said. "This is going to be one of the most sensational trials in the nation.''
On Monday, court officials met with journalists to establish some ground rules for covering the trial, which is expected to last three weeks.
Jury selection is expected to begin July 10 in another county. The judge, citing pretrial publicity, wants jurors to be from outside Citrus.
Once the jury is selected and brought to Inverness, proceedings will be held at the Citrus County Courthouse.
Couey, 47, is charged with first-degree murder, sexual battery, kidnapping and burglary in the death of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford of Homosassa.Court TV, Fox News, Bay News 9, the Associated Press, the Citrus County Chronicle, the Star-Banner of Ocala, the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times are among the media outlets that will cover the trial and that sent representatives to the meeting Monday.
The media will be allowed 32 seats in the courtroom, which can hold about 85 spectators. There will be a video camera and two still photographers allowed at all times.
Circuit Judge Ric Howard is presiding over the trial. In addition to extra security at the courthouse, two deputies will conduct thorough checks of people entering Howard's courtroom.
Anyone who doesn't find a seat inside the courtroom can sit in the County Commission chambers, which will be used as an overflow room. It can hold 100 people. A live video feed from the courtroom will be playing.
DiGiovanni said people who are conducting regular business at the courthouse can still park at the front entrance lot. If the lot is full, people can park at the Inverness City Hall.
During the trial, the city plans to suspend the two-hour parking limit on certain streets and ask its employees to park off site to make additional room for visitor parking.
"Some locals couldn't care less about the trial,'' DiGiovanni said. "People still need to get their boat licenses. It's not like Couey comes in, and everything is going to shut down.''
In the coming days, DiGiovanni will meet with local businesses, including restaurants and motels, to make sure that they are well staffed to handle visitors.
He sees the trial as an opportunity for the county to showcase itself and make a good impression on the many eyes that will be on Citrus County, he said.
"It's such a heinous act,'' DiGiovanni said, referring to the case. "This is going to get so much attention."