DADE CITY — The 200 or so people summoned for jury duty in Luc Pierre-Charles' double murder trial have come to court for two days, dressed casually, carrying water bottles, looking resigned to long days of sitting and waiting.
But when the moment arrives for questioning by the attorneys, there are weighty issues on the table.
Drugs and firearms.
Jury selection will continue today until prosecutors and defense attorneys settle on a panel of 12 with two alternates. Pierre-Charles, 21, is accused in one of the most prominent cases in Pasco County in recent history: the 2006 execution-style slaying of two teenagers on a dirt road in Trilby. Authorities say Pierre-Charles was a drug dealer who killed the teens to protect his turf. His friend, Tyree Jenkins, is also charged in the case, but his trial has not yet been set.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Pierre-Charles faces either life in prison or a death sentence.
So where did the potential jurors come down on the super-charged issue of capital punishment? The judge, the prosecutors and the defense attorneys needed to know.
"It's okay if you don't want anything to do with it," Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia told one group. "We are dealing with human life here."
In Florida, juries vote on an advisory sentence of either life in prison or death, and the judge makes the final decision.
One man said that prospect made him nervous. Another said he was intrigued.
One woman said she was so opposed to the death penalty that she could not return a guilty verdict knowing that a death sentence could follow.
But most people said they could recommend a death sentence if the facts called for it.
"A crime's a crime," said one man.
Lane Lastinger, Pierre-Charles' lawyer, also asked jurors whether any of them had a particular issue with guns or drugs. One man's resentment over his nephew's long sentence for cocaine trafficking got him excused. Another man who once worked as a prison guard said that experience meant he could not be impartial in this case.
Lastinger also asked whether anyone had an issue with race. Pierre-Charles is African-American. Derek Pieper, one of the victims, was white. The other, Raymond Veluz, was Hispanic.
Would race, Lastinger asked, "in any way, in any form, impact you in this case?"
They answered as a group: "No."