Jury selection continues in Cash Feenz trial
As jury selection goes into its third day today in the murder trial of alleged Cash Feenz defendant Kemar Johnston, the presiding judge is considering pulling a second panel of jurors.
At the close of Wednesday’s proceedings, 20th Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas S. Reese said he may bring in another panel of jurors next week. Reese first wants to work through the remaining jurors from the first pool pulled Tuesday before making a decision.
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. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole or possibly the death sentence.
Over the past two days 76 jurors have been questioned by Assistant State Attorney Bob Lee and defense attorney David A. Brener of Fort Myers about how much they know of Johnston’s case and about their personal view of the death penalty. Of the 76, 60 jurors have been dismissed while 16 remain.
One woman questioned Wednesday said that she knew some teens who knew the victims. When asked what she knew about the crime, the woman began to talk about it but choked up and started to cry. She was excused, along with a man who reported that “something happened in Cape Coral and a couple of people were killed.”
Many jurors were excused because they learned about or followed the case in the news and already believe Johnston is guilty or do not believe they could be impartial toward the defendant. The defense and prosecution also let jurors go because of their stance on the death penalty or its application.
Another woman excused Wednesday said that she followed the case “relatively closely” in the news.
“I feel the defendant is probably guilty,” she said. “I would have to see a great deal of evidence to prove otherwise.”
The defense has repeatedly pushed for a change of venue, claiming that the publicity surrounding the case will not allow for a fair and impartial jury. Wednesday morning, Brener cited news reports in which Johnston is said to have shot both Alexis and Jeffrey and “orchestrated the murders.” He also pointed out errors reported as fact by media outlets, such as the bodies of both victims were burned.
At the time, Reese 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, but that he is “trying to mindful of everyone’s schedule.”
“Let’s give it a try with the jurors we have,” Reese said.
A volunteer with the Cape Coral Police Department, Stanley Maliszewski, was also dismissed Wednesday. He told the prosecution and defense that he logs 60 hours per month at the department and knows many of the local police officers. Another man was excused because the state referred to mitigating factors in the case as “frivolous.”
Jury selection began Tuesday with a pool of 100, but a handful of people were excused early on for varying reasons. One man understood only “some” English, one woman had a religious conflict and others were dismissed because of medical issues.
Jury selection for Johnston’s trial resumes at 9 a.m. today at the Lee County Justice Center in Fort Myers. Assistant State Attorney Marie Doerr is also prosecuting the case, and attorney Terry Lenamon is serving as co-counsel for the defense.
Ten people were arrested and charged in the torture and slayings of Alexis Sosa, 18, and Jeffrey Sosa, 14. According to officials, the Sosas were tied up and tortured at Johnston’s home in Cape Coral, then taken to an industrial site in the north Cape where they were fatally shot and Alexis’ body was burned in the trunk of a vehicle.
Roderick Washington and Ashley Toye were found guilty following separate trials. Washington received four consecutive life sentences plus 30 years in prison, and Toye was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Melissa Rivera, Iriana Santos, Alexis Fernandez, Cody Roux and Michael Balint have each pleaded guilty to lesser crimes and will receive prison sentences varying between 14 years and 26 years in exchange for their testimony.
Kenneth Lopez is set to go to trial Feb. 1.
Paul Nunes, who pleaded guilty in August for a reduced sentence of 40 years in prison, was appointed new counsel Monday. On Dec. 28, he requested that his plea deal, which requires him to testify against Johnston and Lopez, be withdrawn.
Reese withheld making a ruling Monday on the request to allow Nunes time to talk to his new attorney.