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Jury picked in sex abuse trial of former Clearwater fire chief

Former Clearwater Fire Chief Jamie Geer, left, and his attorney, David Parry, confer during jury selection Tuesday. Geer  is accused of sexually abusing a girl for several years.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Former Clearwater Fire Chief Jamie Geer, left, and his attorney, David Parry, confer during jury selection Tuesday. Geer is accused of sexually abusing a girl for several years.

LARGO — Lawyers picked a jury of five women and one man to decide the fate of former Clearwater Fire Chief Jamie Geer, who could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of sexual battery on a young girl.

Prosecutors say Geer sexually abused the girl over a period of about a decade, starting when she was 8 or 9, and ending when she turned 17 and talked to police.

When police first got wind of possible abuse, they interviewed her and she denied it. Then she confirmed it, police said.

She is expected to testify sometime today in what is likely to be a key moment in the trial. It is not yet known if Geer will testify.

Jury selection consumed all of Tuesday. Two people also were selected as alternates — one woman and one man.

Of the 70 potential jurors, nearly two dozen said they had read or heard something about the case. Those people were brought one-by-one into a rear conference room and asked what they remembered from previous media coverage. About half of that group was excused from jury service.

Each of these potential jurors sat at a conference table with the judge and attorneys. Geer also sat at the table a few feet from each juror who came in.

Geer — dressed in a gray suit, blue dress shirt and striped tie — often looked directly at the potential jurors with a slight smile on his face.

One woman said she "obsessively" reads news on the Internet and had formed an unfavorable opinion about Geer's guilt. It would be hard for her to change her mind, she acknowledged.

"Once my mind is set, my mind is set," she said.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip Federico told her that as a juror, "the one thing we would want is for your mind not to be set."

Most people who said they had heard news coverage of the case did not remember specifics. Many said the media coverage would not prevent them from being impartial if selected.

"I read about it when it first came out and I don't remember details," said one potential juror, a former schoolteacher. She said she could be impartial.

When another was asked if she could base her decisions on the evidence in court, she said, "I would absolutely have to."

One potential juror said she was molested at age 10. Asked if she could be unbiased, she said, "No, not a chance. I'm barely sitting through this … I could not be impartial at all." She was excused.

A man said it would be hard for him to be impartial because, "I just felt that even to be accused of that is horrible and I wouldn't want anything to do with it." He also was excused.

Lawyers are expected to deliver opening statements this morning.

Geer, 58, has been held at the Pinellas County Jail since his arrest in December 2010. He faces charges of sexual battery, lewd or lascivious battery and unlawful sexual activity with a minor.

Times Staff Writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8232.

Jury picked in sex abuse trial of former Clearwater fire chief 04/24/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 9:04am]
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