Johnston defense moves again for change of venue
Day two of jury selection in the trial of alleged Cash Feenz defendant Kemar Johnston kicked off just after 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Defense attorney David A. Brener started off the morning’s proceedings by citing characterizations of Johnston in local media reports, along with what he said was misinformation about the crime that was reported as fact. The defense has repeatedly pushed for a change of venue, stating that the high level of local publicity about the case will not allow for a fair and impartial jury.
According the Brener, Johnston is reported as the one who shot both Alexis and Jeffrey Sosa and “orchestrated the murders.” He said both victims are reported to have been tortured and burned, when only one body was burned in the crime. Brener also voiced concerns that the potential jurors called back today may have seen or heard the information, despite instructions by the court to avoid any print or television reports about the case.
Assistant State Attorney Robert Lee responded to the defense’s concerns by stating that it is up to the potential jurors to follow the court’s instructions to not pay attention to any reports about the case, and that the media has a constitutional right to cover the trial and its proceedings. Lee added that during individual questioning, the defense has dismissed jurors because of their prior knowledge of the crime or opinion about the death penalty ot defendant regarding guilt.
Twentieth Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas S. Reese, who is presiding over the case, explained that he would rather attempt to seat a jury from the existing pool, than move forward with a change of venue. He said the trial could be moved to the Bay area, Stuart, Palm Beach or Miami, but that the move would not guarantee an untainted jury pool. Reese added that he is “trying to mindful of everyone’s schedule.”
“Let’s give it a try with the jurors we have,” he said.
Reese called the remaining jurors from Tuesday — about 60 — were called into courtroom 5C at the Lee County Justice Center at about 9:30 a.m. In line with Tuesday’s proceedings, the prosecution, state, Reese and a few others moved into a small room attached to the courtroom for individual questioning of the potential jurors. In the room, questioning by each side once again is focused on what each potential juror knows about the case as well as their stance on the death penalty and its use.
Johnston, 23, faces two counts each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in the 2006 double murder of Alexis and Jeffrey Sosa in Cape Coral. Johnston faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.
According to Reese, the penalty in Florida if found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder is “life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.” In certain exceptional cases, “the death penalty may be appropriate for the jury” to consider. Reese will make the final decision regarding any sentencing.