Potential jurors recall Steele case

More than 30 are dismissed from serving in the murder trial.

Published April 17, 2007

DADE CITY - In the opening day of Alfredie Steele Jr.'s first-degree murder trial, little got accomplished.

But in the way of courtroom theatrics, plenty happened.

Jury selection proved slow and cumbersome as attorneys spent Monday morning haggling over issues like whether potential jurors should be accompanied to the snack bar to ensure no one discusses the case with them.

The first round of questions dealt solely with pretrial publicity. Questioned individually, person after person talked about reading newspaper stories and seeing television reports about the shooting death of Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison on June 1, 2003, outside a Trilacoochee nightclub.

Some recalled fine details of the crime in which Steele told detectives he took an SKS rifle out into the woods to shoot, then got drunk at Rumors nightclub before spotting Harrison's patrol car parked nearby. Steele confessed to firing at the car but said he didn't mean to kill Harrison.

Some in the pool either knew Harrison, a 31-year deputy, or lived near where the shooting occurred.

Still others said that because of the nature of the crime, they didn't believe they could be impartial.

"Most everything I read and seen in the newspaper would indicate guilt," one man said before being excused.

In all, 32 people were dismissed of the 140 who reported for duty.

Attorneys are divided on whether an impartial jury can be found. Selection continues today.

"That's pretty good," said Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe of the remaining pool of potential jurors.

"I think he's being optimistic," said Assistant Public Defender Bob Focht. "I'm not saying we're not going to do it. It's going to be a really close question."

Steele, 23, faces a possible death sentence if convicted.

For the first time in years, he spoke Monday in court, if only briefly.

Dealing with a procedural issue about private conferences with the judge, Steele stood, raised his right hand and gave the oath before saying he agreed with his attorneys' strategy.

Wearing a dark gray suit, white shirt and dark red tie, Steele answered, "Yes, sir," to the judge's questions, then sat back down.

A first hint at strategy peeked through when his lead attorney, Public Defender Tom Hanlon, objected to Steele's mother being kept out of the courtroom.

"For this young man not to have his mother in the courtroom would deprive him," Hanlon said. "She is the only thing he has in the world."

The mother, Regina Clemmons, was listed as a possible witness, and Judge Robert Beach said she could remain only if she was not going to be called.

McCabe said he did not plan to call Clemmons. But after Hanlon conferred with other defense lawyers, only Steele's sisters came in.

Clemmons waited in the lobby with another likely witness - former Pasco High star athlete and ex-NFL linebacker Darren Hambrick.

Prosecutors say Clemmons and Hambrick picked up Steele, who fled to Daytona Beach two days after Harrison's shooting, and delivered him to the Sheriff's Office, where he confessed.

In the afternoon, however, Clemmons was allowed in the courtroom during juror questioning.

"I came to support my son," she said after court adjourned. "I just wanted him to know I was here."

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at 352 521-6521 or moorhead@sptimes.com.