Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jury Selection Drags On In Pasco Murder Trial

By TODD LESKANIC | The Tampa Tribune

Plans to begin the first-degree murder trial of Luc Pierre-Charles Jr. today went by the wayside as jury selection dragged on for a third day.

Pierre-Charles, 21, is charged in the killings of Wesley Chapel High students Derek Pieper and Raymond Veluz. Pieper, 17, and Veluz, 18, were found dead off Harris Hill Road on July 28, 2006. Both had been shot in the back multiple times.

Authorities have said the killings were drug-related.

In July, authorities issued first-degree murder warrants for Pierre-Charles and Tyree Jenkins. Jenkins, 23, was arrested in July and is set to go to trial in June. Both men face a possible death penalty if found guilty.

Pierre-Charles eluded authorities until October, when the U.S. Marshals Service tracked him to the east central Florida town of Rockledge. Authorities say he was found at a relative's home, hiding between a bed and a wall and under some dirty clothes.

Jury selection in Pierre-Charles' trial began Monday. Opening statements are now scheduled to be heard Thursday morning and the trial is expected to last into next week.

If Pierre-Charles is found guilty of first-degree murder, the trial will move to a penalty phase during which jurors will listen to evidence and decide whether to recommend a sentence of life in prison or death. The judge must give the recommendation "great weight" in handing down the sentence.

The lengthy jury selection isn't unusual for a death penalty case. In addition to the usual questions, attorneys must ask each potential juror about capital punishment and their beliefs.

The goal is for prosecutors and defense attorneys to agree on 12 jurors who could recommend a death sentence if warranted but would do so only after giving the facts thoughtful consideration.

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