Three men and three women will hear opening statements today in the case against Bernice Bowen.
By SUE CARLTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 1999
|Bernice Bowen stands with her attorney, John Kromholz, as 50 prospective jurors enter a Hillsborough County courtroom Monday. [Times photo: Tony Lopez]
Sitting shoulder to shoulder on hard courtroom benches, they recalled news clips about the day her boyfriend Hank Earl Carr shot a little boy, escaped police and gunned down three officers before killing himself. Some remembered that she had been charged in the aftermath.
A few reacted with emotion: the man who apologized, saying he was too horrified by the officers' deaths to serve, the woman whose voice broke when she said she did not think she could be fair.
But by day's end, attorneys had picked three women and three men who said they had not formed an opinion about Bowen, could put aside what they knew, and would listen to the evidence and the law.
"After a full day here, I'm confident everybody here was being candid and truthful," Bowen's attorney, John Kromholz, said late Monday afternoon.
The jury, comprising a welder, an insurance agent, a salesman, a technician and two retirees, will hear opening statements this morning.
The 25-year-old former strip dancer and Kmart clerk is accused of being an accessory after the fact in the May 1998 deaths of her son Joey, 4, veteran Tampa police detectives Randy Bell and Ricky Childers and Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James Crooks. That morning, Carr shot the boy in the face with a semiautomatic rifle in the couple's Sulphur Springs apartment. During the investigation that followed, he got out of his handcuffs in the back of a police car, grabbed a gun from a detective, killed them both and continued on a three-county rampage.
Prosecutors charge that Bowen helped Carr after the fact by deliberately withholding information that he was a violent, wanted felon. They say she identified him by her ex-husband's name and did not tell police about the handcuff key she knew he kept hidden on him.
Kromholz is expected to argue, however, that soon after learning of the officers' deaths, she began to help investigators by giving them the last name "Carr," among other names, and the address of his mother's home. Prosecutors and police called as witnesses are expected to dispute the defense time line.
Potential jurors, who were told to hand their morning newspapers over to a bailiff and to avoid media coverage of the case, were questioned individually Monday morning. Twelve of 50 were initially dismissed because they said they could not be fair or already had an opinion, though they were not asked what that opinion was.
The 12 included a man who had gone to school with Childers, and another who worked for Shell Oil, the same company as the gas station where Carr holed up with a hostage and killed himself. A woman married to a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy agreed it would be "a little too close to home."
Many had only passing knowledge of what had happened.
"I don't even remember what the guy's name was," said one.
One woman said she felt sorry for the officers but didn't think Bowen had "had anything to do with it."
The potential jurors went on to answer questions about their feelings on subjects from children to gun ownership to police.
One juror has a son who is a highway patrol trooper in Orlando, but said he could be impartial. Another said he knew nothing of the incident because he moved to Hillsborough County less than a year ago.
The parents of Childers, a well-liked detective raised in Plant City, sat in the courtroom Monday, his mother wearing a guardian angel pin, his father wearing a tiny police badge. Bowen's mother sat behind them.
At one point during Monday's proceedings, Bowen appeared to wipe away tears, prompting a bailiff to get her a handful of tissues.
The trial, before Circuit Judge Dan Perry, is expected to last the week and is being covered by cable television channel Court TV.
Bowen faces a second trial on charges that she neglected her son and her daughter Kayla, now 6, by exposing them to Carr, an avid gun collector. Kayla, who now lives with a great-aunt in Ohio, is expected to be called to testify in the neglect case.
Bowen faces up to 29 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
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