Jury selection continues into Friday in Kemar Johnston trial
After three days of jury selection in the murder trial of alleged Cash Feenz defendant Kemar Johnston, at least 19 jurors will return next week for additional questioning.
Twenty-two people — the last in a pool of 98 — were questioned Thursday, with 20th Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas S. Reese dismissing nine and asking three to come back as of noon. Sixteen jurors questioned Tuesday and Wednesday — out of a total of 76 — will join those retained today for further
At the start of today’s proceedings, Reese announced that two additional panels of jurors will be pulled in the coming days in an attempt to seat a jury.
Thirty people will be brought in Friday and 60 jurors will be called on Tuesday. Reese plans to get through the second panel in one day, and wants to spend Tuesday and Wednesday working through the third jury pool.
“Hopefully by Thursday we’ll have a sufficient number,” he said.
“And I hope we don’t lose too many in the process,” Reese added.
The first pool of jurors, pulled Tuesday, totaled 100. Early in Tuesday’s proceedings, Reese dismissed a man who said that he understood “some” English and required a translator and a woman who had a medical issue. The remaining 98 faced individual questioning by the prosecution and defense. Defense attorney David A. Brener of Fort Myers and Assistant State Attorney Bob Lee questioned the jurors about their knowledge of the 2006 double murder and Johnston, their stance on the death penalty and whether they hold an opinion about Johnston or his innocence or guilt.
Johnston, 23, faces two counts each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in the Cape Coral murders of Alexis Sosa, 18, and Jeffrey Sosa, 14. If convicted, Johnston faces death or life in prison without parole.
One woman questioned Thursday explained that she knew a lot about the murders because a high school student employed at her law firm knew those involved and the girl talked about the killings at work.
“She talked about it all the time,” the woman said.
“I just remember at the time being very disturbed by it,” she said, adding that what the student said even changed how she viewed her co-worker. “It’s just very upsetting.”
The woman, who was also anti-death penalty, was dismissed.
One man said he knew a lot about the murders because “back when the crime happened, it was a big article.” He became emotional as he compared what the victims may have gone through to something similar to what his family faced in the Nazi concentration camps in World War II.
Asked if he has reached an opinion about the case and Johnston’s guilt, the man bluntly replied, “I believe he’s guilty.”
He also was excused from the jury pool.
One woman kept as a juror and asked to return Thursday reported that she has little knowledge of the case and would recommend the death penalty if the facts in the case deemed it the proper sentence.
“I think, if it is just and cause, and the testimony leads you to that direction, so be it,” she said. “If it doesn’t and there’s certain circumstances that put that person in a different light — as long as there’s
a choice there to go either way.
“You listen and form your opinion based on the law,” the woman added.
The defense has repeatedly pushed for a change of venue, stating that pre-trial publicity will not permit a fair and impartial jury. At the beginning of each day’s proceedings, Brener has cited local news reports, pointing out what he said were inaccuracies presented as fact and negative characterizations of his client.
On Wednesday, Reese explained that he would rather attempt to seat a Lee County jury 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 Wednesday.
Ten people were arrested and charged in the torture and slaying of Alexis Sosa and his nephew, Jeffrey. 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, was appointed new counsel Monday. On Dec. 28, he asked that his plea deal, requiring him to testify against Johnston and Lopez, be withdrawn. A status conference with Nunes and his new attorney is set for Monday.
Jury selection in 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.