Live coverage of trial irks Fast's attorney

rnapper@bradenton.comJuly 7, 2009 

BRADENTON — A national television show is expected to roll out live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the murder trial of Thomas Fast, accused of killing and dismembering his stepmother in 2007, and his defense attorney is not happy about it.

Jury selection began in Fast’s trial Monday but not before his defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts, decried the fact that the television show In Session plans to cover proceedings live throughout the week. The coverage is expected to air live on the network truTV, formerly called Court TV, this week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Roberts especially objected to the presence of television cameras in the courtroom as attorneys tried to empanel a jury, though court officials told him the cameras would not be turned on during jury selection. The taping was to begin at the start of opening arguments.

Just having cameras in the courtroom, whether they are on or not, could taint the jury pool, Roberts argued.

“I think having cameras in the courtroom will inhibit the trial, inhibit witnesses and inhibit potential jurors,” he said.

Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith Jr., who is presiding over the trial, granted Roberts’ request that two cameras on tripods in the courtroom be removed during jury selection, but said In Session will be allowed to film the trial live once a jury is selected.

In Session editorial Producer Ilana Rosenbluth said objections from defense attorneys about live coverage are common.

“It happens all the time. It is nothing new,” she said.

Fast is accused of first-degree murder in the killing and dismembering of his stepmother Susan Fast, 60, in June 2007. After she disappeared, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies found Susan Fast’s body parts stuffed in garbage bags in a storm drain behind a Lakewood Ranch shopping plaza.

After the debate over In Session’s coverage, attorneys then spent the rest of the day trying to weed out potential jurors who have made up their mind about the case based on the media coverage of Susan Fast’s death.

Dozens of potential jurors told Roberts and Assistant State Attorney Art Brown they had read or seen on television media reports on the case. Only a few of those said they could not objectively serve as a juror on the case. Dozens of others said they had no knowledge of the case.

But the hours-long questioning of potential jurors who had prior knowledge of the case pushed jury selection into a second day. Attorneys are hoping to select a jury sometime this afternoon, with opening statements to begin immediately after.

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