Two and a half days into jury selection for the Delmer Smith III murder trial, Judge Peter Dubensky joked with potential jurors that perhaps there will be a new reality television show titled Survivior: Jury Selection because youre into the next phase.
While 57 potential jurors of the initial 150 have passed through preliminary screening and death penalty qualification and two more will be interviewed after lunch, Dubensky plans to begin processing a smaller third panel of 40 people Wednesday afternoon.
After consulting other 12th Circuit judges, Dubensky said the last few death penalty cases in both Manatee and Sarasota counties have had between 70 and 75 potential jurors from which to choose in the final phase.
Prosecutors first said 34 would suffice because the state and defense can each strike 10 panelists before picking 12 jurors and two alternates, but against that backdrop provided by Dubensky about previous trials, assistant state attorneys Brian Iten and Suzanne ODonnell agreed to interview more people.
Smiths attorneys, Daniel Hernandez and Bjorn Brunvard, said the defense may request more than 10 preemptory strikes due to several potential jurors having some knowledge of the case.
Smith, 41, is charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 3, 2009, death of Kathleen Briles who was allegedly bludgeoned to death with an antique sewing machine in her Terra Ceia home.
The defendant sat in courtroom 5A Wednesday morning, wearing a light gray shirt and khaki pants, as 39 jurors remaining in a second panel of 75 after preliminary screening Tuesday were questioned in smaller groups Wednesday morning regarding their views of the death penalty.
Dubensky praised a male high school student and potential juror for giving the best explanation this week of how he would weigh mitigating and aggravating circumstances if Smith is convicted to determine his sentencing recommendation.
If Smith is found guilty of first-degree murder in a unanimous vote, he will be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
For the death penalty to be the jurys recommended sentence, at least seven of the 12 panelists would have to vote that way. If six or fewe jurors vote for the death penalty, an imposition of life in prison without parole would be considered the jurys recommendation.
Dubensky would ultimately make the final decision.
After processing the third panel Wednesday, Dubensky hopes to bring all remaining potential jurors in Thursday morning, when we will continue to whittle down.