The triple-murder trial for Andres “Andy” Avalos began Monday morning with 32 out of 75 potential jurors being questioned.
But before questioning began, the defense asked again for the trial to be moved out of Manatee County due to the publicity. But Circuit Judge Diana Moreland denied the request.
Andrew Crawford is the lead attorney for Avalos, 36, who is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Rather than argue that Avalos didn’t kill the three victims, the defense is expected to rely on an insanity defense. If convicted, Avalos could face life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
The defense and prosecution started their line of questioning, which centered around if the potential jurors have read or watched media coverage about the case, if their selection for the jury in the three-week trial would create hardships in their personal life and their thoughts about the death penalty and aggravating factors.
Jurors were questioned and released one by one, and they were told to call the court concerning their possible assignment Wednesday.
Of the 32 jurors questioned Monday, cause challenges were made on 15, Moreland noted at the end of Monday’s session.
Court recessed around 5 p.m. Monday, and attorneys will return at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Jury questioning will continue, starting at 8:45 a.m.
The 36-year-old Avalos is accused of killing his wife Amber, neighbor Denise Potter and pastor James “Tripp” Battle III on Dec. 4, 2014, then leading law enforcement on a 51-hour manhunt.
Detectives say that Avalos hanged Amber with a cord in the laundry room, beat her face and shot her in the chest, then shot Potter multiple times. Avalos’ 4-year-old son was in the home when the victims were killed.
Then, detectives say, Avalos took a taxi to Bayshore Baptist Church, where Battle was lead pastor. Avalos rambled to Battle’s wife Joy in the church’s office before slamming the door behind him. Joy heard multiple gunshots and saw her husband fall.
A little more than two days later, Avalos surrendered at a mobile home in Pine Haven Mobile Home Park.