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New venue going nowhere

As jury selection continues, the defense keeps asking for the trial to be moved at least in part because every denied motion could help during appeals.

Published July 13, 2006

[Times photo: Stephen J. Coddington]
Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgeway waits for potential jurors to be brought into the courtroom during the third day of jury selection in the trial of John Couey on Wednesday at the Lake County Judicial Center in Tavares. Couey is accused of the kidnapping, rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.

TAVARES - John Couey's defense attorney asked a judge to move jury selection to a new location for the second day in a row Wednesday.

Jury selection was moved to Lake County because news coverage of the case in Citrus was so pervasive.

But Lake, where attorneys have been sifting through potential jurors since Monday, also has been "saturated by media exposure," assistant public defender Daniel Lewan said.

Circuit Judge Ric Howard quickly denied Lewan's motion for change of venue, just as he did when Lewan made the same motion Tuesday.

So, why did Lewan even ask a second time?

The defense isn't only thinking of this trial but also of possible appeals.

Each motion is entered into the court record, and the defense can later argue that Couey didn't get a fair trial based on the fact that motions - particularly the change-of-venue motions, which get at the very heart of a guarantee of a fair trial - were inappropriately denied by the judge.

"If I was his defense attorney, that's exactly the motion I would make," said Charlie Rose, a former senior prosecutor and defense attorney who teaches at Stetson University College of Law. "The longer they have problems, the stronger his argument that this venue just can't be fair becomes."

Rose said he doesn't expect the judge to grant the change-of-venue motions, but he expects Lewan to keep making them throughout the jury selection process.

Once a jury is seated, the proceedings will be moved to Inverness.

The challenge of finding a fair jury is "not insurmountable, but it's more difficult," Rose said, due to Howard's recent rulings to suppress Couey's confession and past criminal history.

But Largo defense attorney John Trevena said finding an impartial jury in Central Florida will be impossible.

"They're going to need to move the case a significant distance away," he said.

"Because there's such a large percentage of the pool that is very aware of the case, and in particular the confession, I think that it's going to be a very frustrating process of everyone," Trevena said. "That's why I think ultimately it will wear on the court."

Tampa defense attorney John Fitzgibbons said the case "is as strong a case for a change of venue as one could have." He suggested an urban area in South Florida as an ideal location.

"You would have to be living in a cave not to know something about this case," he said.

Normally jury selection takes a day. But in a case that combines suppressed evidence and death penalty issues, a grueling process is guaranteed.

The trial record and the performance of defense attorneys will be closely scrutinized, Fitzgibbons said.

"Death is different," Rose said. "Death ratchets up every single issue in a criminal trial."


[Last modified July 13, 2006, 09:00:59]

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