Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Orme jury selection begins

Retrial involves 1992 first-degree murder conviction
By David Angier

Roderick Orme’s penalty phase retrial for a 1992 first-degree murder conviction began slowly Monday with individual questioning of prospective jurors.

State Attorney Steve Meadows had to repeatedly explain to prospective jurors the legal process and how it applied to Orme’s case as well as what exactly would go on during the expected two-week trial. He detailed for one nervous woman what "aggravating" and "mitigating" circumstances are and what they would mean if she was selected for the jury.

"I bet you didn’t spend the weekend thinking about the death penalty," Meadows told the woman.

Orme, 45, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in 1993 for the 1992 murder, rape and robbery of Bay Medical Center nurse Lisa Redd.

In February 2005, the Florida Supreme Court overturned Orme’s sentence, but upheld his conviction, and returned him to Bay County for a new penalty trial. Orme is still convicted of the charges but will go before a 12-person jury for a recommended penalty of either life in prison — with the possibility of parole — or a return to death row.

Meadows explained that the state will present evidence during the trial to try to prove aggravating circumstances about this crime that would call for Orme’s execution. The question of Orme’s guilt will not be a matter for this jury since the high court upheld his conviction.

Meadows said the defense then will present its mitigating evidence of Orme’s background or character, or aspects of the crime that they feel would call for a life sentence. At the end of the process, the jury will make a recommendation to Circuit Judge Judy Pittman about an appropriate sentence.

The recommendation is by majority vote, not unanimous, and Pittman is almost required to follow the jury’s recommendation. The difference in this case as opposed to a modern first-degree murder conviction is Orme could get parole after 25 years in prison if he’s sentenced to life.

Parole in Florida’s prison system was done away with in the 1990s, but Orme’s crime was committed at a time when it was an option. He would be sentenced according to the guidelines in place in 1992.

At the end of his presentation, Meadows asked the woman if she would be able to weigh the evidence and recommend the death sentence.

"If I feel the aggravators outweigh what the defense presented," she said. "It would be difficult for me as a person."

"It should be," Meadows said.

Orme’s attorney, Russ Ramey, questioned one woman about her feelings on the death penalty if she knew that Orme raped Redd during the murder. The woman said she would still have to hear all the facts before making a decision.

The jury selection process is expected to resume today with the lawyers questioning prospective jurors in groups.

The state justices returned Orme for a new penalty trial because they believed his mental condition had not been fully explained to jurors at his last penalty trial. Considering the narrow 7-5 recommendation for death, his outcome could have been different if jurors had the additional information, according to the high court.

Redd was beaten, raped and strangled in a Lee’s Motel room March 3, 1992. Orme told police he called Redd that day and asked her to come to his motel room because he had been ingesting cocaine and was having a "bad high." He and Redd had been acquainted for some time and Orme said he called her because she was a nurse.

Orme’s defense was that he was too intoxicated to have formed the premeditation or intent to support a conviction of first-degree murder.

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