Cabrera trial: Prospective jurors asked about wife, former NBC-2 anchor
FORT MYERS — A fire alarm abruptly ended the first half of jury selection in the federal trial of Fort Myers real estate agent Samir Cabrera.
With only five seats left to fill in an 18-person jury box, Judge John E. Steele was questioning potential jurors when a strobe light began blinking and a muffled, automated voice commanded everyone to leave the First Avenue court building.
“You’re kidding me,” Steele said.
He continued his questioning before being told the court had to be evacuated.
The building reopened shortly after firefighters entered.
Cabrera is charged with 12 counts of fraud and money laundering in allegations he bilked investors of $2.8 million in two south Fort Myers property deals.
The court is seating 12 jurors and 6 alternates in the case. After two rounds of questioning, 13 total jurors remain in the box. Five new potential jurors were just being questioned as the fire alarm began.
Cabrera, who sat at the defense table with lawyer John Mills, was joined in court by wife Jessica Stilwell, a former NBC-2 anchor, as well as three relatives, all of whom sat in the back row.
Stilwell, dressed in a a green blouse, black pants and pulled back hair, showed little emotion throughout questioning, despite several of the questions being about her.
When Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey F. Michelland asked one woman if she watched NBC-2 and knew Stilwell, the woman responded, “Yes, I watched all the time. She was one of my favorites.”
The juror was dismissed soon after.
Another juror said he disagreed with the judge’s jury instructions, which advised that Cabrera was innocent until determined guilty.
“I think someone got caught with their hand in the cookie jar and it needs to get slapped,” he said.
He was also dismissed.
Among other dismissals were jurors with backgrounds or relatives in real estate.
The evacuation is the second in a major Lee County trial in several months. During an October jury selection in the trial of Fred Cooper, the defendant in the killings of Gateway couple Steven and Michelle Andrews, dust from construction triggered a fire alarm in the Lee County Justice Center.