DADE CITY — Jurors at Tyree Jenkins' upcoming murder trial won't hear about his previous murder conviction in Hillsborough County, unless the defense introduces evidence that opens the door.
During a hearing Thursday, Circuit Judge Susan Gardner decided — and lawyers on both sides agreed — that they wouldn't talk about how Jenkins shot Willie Cherry to death during a robbery of Cherry's brother outside a Tampa gyro shop in 2008.
That shooting happened two years after two Wesley Chapel High School students were found shot execution-style on a dirt road in Trilby.
Jenkins, 26, is serving a life sentence for the 2008 shooting. Next week he goes on trial for first-degree murder for the 2006 deaths of 17-year-old Derek Pieper and 18-year-old Raymond Veluz. A co-defendant, Luc Pierre-Charles, was sentenced to life for the killings of the Wesley Chapel teens but was granted a new trial on appeal.
Jenkins told authorities he was not at the scene.
Assistant State Attorney Michelle Lavender explained that prosecutors filed a notice they wanted to be able to refer to the Hillsborough case because it involved many of the same witnesses, who might get confused. It might also confuse jurors. For example, they said, Jenkins made a statement in a car about the Trilby shooting right after the Hillsborough murder.
"It might not make sense if they're in a car and this just comes up," she said.
That's okay, defense attorney Daniel Hernandez responded.
"Taking things out of context is better than having prejudicial statements," he said.
He said in exchange, he wouldn't object to prosecutors leading the witnesses a bit so as to avoid having them refer to the Hillsborough case on their own.
"We don't want them to blurt out answers," Hernandez said.
Gardner said discussing events of out of context to avoid prejudicing the jury is not unusual.
Under the rules, defendants' previous crimes are not admissible, unless prosecutors get permission to use them to prove a fact of the current case. They can't be considered to judge a defendant's character.
However, if the defense brings up testimony as to a defendant's good character, then prosecutors may bring up the previous crimes.
The rules change if a defendant is convicted and jurors are considering the death penalty. At that point, they get to hear about a defendant's past.
In a victory for prosecutors, Gardner refused to exclude testimony from Jenkins' friend, Donovan Parker, who said in his deposition that Jenkins admitted that he "laid two guys flat" in Trilby.
Hernandez said Parker's statements were too vague to be admissible.
"What did that mean? Does that mean he fought two guys in a bar and punched them?" he said.
Prosecutors said Parker's references to Trilby could only refer to the 2006 shooting.
"We've not had any other homicides on Trilby Road," Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia said, adding that Jenkins also made statements about leaving two bodies "stinking in the street in Trilby."
In siding with prosecutors, Gardner said, "It's relevant, it's admissible and (defense attorneys) have the chance to cross examine" Parker.
One point defense attorneys won was that prosecutors can't bring in statements from another friend who said Pierre-Charles paid a man named Commie Pattmon to kill Jeremy Henry, a suspect in the Trilby murders who was cleared after speaking to authorities.
Henry was fatally shot shortly after that. Pattmon, now serving a 25-year sentence for Henry's murder, was paid $1,000 cash, a gold necklace and 14 grams of crack cocaine.
Prosecutors said they didn't intend to use those statements unless the defense proposed an alternate theory that Henry committed the Trilby shooting.
"He was cleared," Garcia said. "And he can't be brought in to testify because he's dead."