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Lyons team might ask for venue change

Bernice Edwards, center, yawns as lawyers question potential jurors in court Tuesday. [Times photo: Cherie Diez]


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 13, 1999

LARGO -- Lawyers for the Rev. Henry J. Lyons are expected to ask today that the Baptist leader's trial be moved outside the Tampa Bay area, although the judge in the racketeering trial already has said that is unlikely.

A Ministry in Question: more Times coverage of the Rev. Henry Lyons

Lyons' co-defendant, former aide Bernice Edwards, previously has asked for a venue change.

With just three African-Americans in an initial pool of 100 people, defense attorneys may be concerned about the lack of diversity among potential jurors.

Lead defense attorney Grady Irvin Jr. declined to comment, though he told Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer on Tuesday that he planned to file the motion today.

Defense attorney Denis de Vlaming said in an interview, "Everybody wants a jury of their peers. I represent an African-American. I'd prefer to have more African-Americans in the pool. But that's out of my control."

De Vlaming downplayed the motion for moving the trial, saying the defense is still confident an acceptable panel of six jurors and at least three alternates can be seated.

But if they can't, he said, it's safer to file the motion now than to wait.

Schaeffer has said she expects the court to be able to seat an unbiased panel here. The second day of Lyons' and Edwards' trial continued Tuesday with the questioning of jurors about their knowledge of pretrial publicity.

So far, 30 have survived preliminary questioning.

Once 50 are selected, lawyers will question them more extensively, beginning Thursday. Opening arguments are set for Jan. 25.

Lyons, 56, a St. Petersburg minister and president of the National Baptist Convention USA, is charged with racketeering and two counts of grand theft. Edwards, 42, of Milwaukee is charged with racketeering.

Prosecutors say the two siphoned millions of dollars into secret bank accounts to finance a lavish lifestyle.


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