By THOMAS W. KRAUSE The Tampa Tribune
Published: Aug 22, 2007
TAMPA - Prosecutors and defense attorneys worked for two days trying to seat a jury that would determine whether a 41-year-old man should be executed or serve the rest of his life in prison for the rape and murder of a 21-year-old Citrus Park woman.
By early afternoon Tuesday, they gave up. The 78 potential jurors were sent home. The jury will be selected from a new panel.
"It finally got to the point where the judge agreed we had reached the point of farce," defense attorney Robert Fraser said.
Although several of the potential jurors seemed sharp and fair, a few "bad eggs" continued to make statements that were inappropriate, Fraser said.
Charles Grover "Chuck" Brant was arrested in July 2004 in the raping and strangling of 21-year-old Sara Radfar. Three months ago, he pleaded guilty to the charges. Often when prosecutors seek the death penalty, a defendant will plead guilty under an agreement calling for a penalty of life in prison.
In a few unusual circumstances, when the evidence against a defendant is too great, the defendant will plead guilty even though the prosecution continues to seek execution. In those cases, a jury is needed to hear evidence and make a recommendation to the judge aboutwhether the defendant deserves life in prison or death by lethal injection.
The jury's decision is only a recommendation. The final sentence is up to the judge.
On Monday and Tuesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys tried to seat a 12-member jury for the penalty hearing.
Several on the panel of 78 potential jurors didn't seem to understand why they were there. If Brant had pleaded guilty, some asked, why were they called to service? At least two potential jurors said the process seemed like a "formality" and a "waste."
After the group was sent home, Assistant State Attorney Jalal Harb said many of the potential jurors seemed to think that Brant should be executed even without a penalty hearing.
Fraser said some potential jurors twisted the facts, confusing the others.
One man said he could not spare the life of Brant because Brant admitted to killing a 12-year-old girl. Circuit Judge William Fuente reread the indictment, which states that Brant was accused of killing someone 12 or older.
Many in the room full of potential jurors let out an extended "ohhh."
"If they're answering questions based on the thought that Brant killed a 12-year-old, it's no wonder they were looking through a jaundiced eye," Fraser said.
The attorneys will meet again this morning to determine the next step. Both said they highly doubt jury selection will begin again this week. The hearing might be put off for months.
On July 2, 2004, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies converged on a dead-end road in Citrus Park, searching for the man who killed Radfar in her Altaloma Street duplex.
While a crowd of neighbors gathered to watch the investigation unfold, Brant offered deputies a tip: Earlier that day, he saw someone creep out of Radfar's back door. It was a man who looked sort of like him but with long blond hair and wearing a yellow raincoat.
Deputies later said Brant was describing himself. A raincoat was found in Brant's home. The day before deputies searched the area, Brant had cut off his long blond hair. He later admitted to the crime.
Reporter Thomas W. Krause can be reached at (813) 259-7698 or firstname.lastname@example.org.