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Accused killer John Kalisz's murder trial begins

BROOKSVILLE — After a day of personal and prodding questions, attorneys still had not settled on a jury in John Kalisz's capital murder trial, which began Tuesday morning in Hernando County Circuit Court.

The process will start again at 8:30 a.m. today.

Kalisz, already convicted of killing a sheriff's deputy in Dixie County, is accused of murdering two Hernando County women and attempting to murder two others.

Lawyers spent much of their time asking prospective jurors about their opinions on the death penalty.

Two people told the court that because of their religious convictions, they could never vote to have someone executed. Prosecutor Pete Magrino struck them both. Another pair expressed strong opinions in favor of the death penalty. Public defender Alan Fanter struck those two.

Those four, along with several others, had been dismissed from service by late Tuesday afternoon, leaving about 40 people in the jury pool.

During his questioning, Magrino focused on three primary issues: whether the potential jurors or their family members had ever served in the military; whether they had ever interacted with Hernando County sheriff's deputies; and what they believe causes people to commit crimes.

Fanter's questions were more broad.

He asked people their opinion about a person's right to remain silent, whether they owned firearms, what they did with their spare time, their first reaction to their jury summons and whether they believed alcoholism is a disease.

Before jury selection, Magrino and Fanter agreed that during the trial phase of the proceedings they would not discuss Kalisz's murder of Dixie County Capt. Chad Reed, who was shot attempting to arrest Kalisz in Cross City. The attorneys decided they would only refer to a "suspect shooting" in Dixie so witnesses could explain how the murder weapon was found.

Kalisz, escorted by two deputies, shuffled into the courtroom about 9:30 a.m. His feet shackled, he wore a saggy gray suit, brown tie and slippers. The suspect's brown, scraggly hair hung below his shoulders and his skin looked pale and swollen.

Co-counsel Devon Sharkey sat next to Kalisz at the defense table and explained how jury selection worked. Kalisz asked what would happen if, after he was convicted, six jurors voted for his execution and six voted against it.

A tie, Sharkey told him, goes to the defendant.

Minutes later, with a few of the victims' family members looking on, Kalisz and Sharkey exchanged stories about hiking and, from mountain summits, watching the sun rise.

Investigators say that on Jan. 14, 2010, Kalisz, 57, killed his sister, Kathryn "Kitty" Donovan, and her office manager, Deborah Tillotson, in Donovan's home on Wilhelm Road, west of Brooksville.

He's also accused of shooting his niece, Manessa Donovan, and Amy Wilson, an employee at Donovan's home-based business.

Kalisz then fled north in his van on U.S. 19 to Cross City. When Dixie County authorities confronted Kalisz at a BP gas station, he fired a shot out of his driver's-side window and hit Reed.

Kalisz was shot at least six times.

His trial could last as long as two weeks.

Accused killer John Kalisz's murder trial begins 01/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 8:19pm]
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