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Tainted jury pool forces judge to postpone Pasco murder trial

DADE CITY — Tyree Jenkins was set to go to trial this week for the fatal shooting of two Wesley Chapel High School students on a dirt road six years ago in Trilby, but he will have to have his day in court later.

Two days into jury selection, Circuit Judge Susan Gardner tossed out the entire remaining panel on Tuesday after a prospective juror was overhead talking about Jenkins' previous murder conviction and life sentence in a 2008 Hillsborough robbery and shooting. The comments were made within earshot of other prospective jurors.

Attorneys had agreed at a pretrial hearing last week that they would not bring up Jenkins' prior conviction unless the other side brought in evidence exploring Jenkins' character. Rules of evidence prohibit prosecutors from introducing evidence of previous crimes except in limited circumstances.

Jenkins, 26, is one of two co-defendants in the execution-style shooting of 17-year-old Derek Pieper and 18-year-old Raymond Veluz, whose bodies were found lying face down on Harris Hill Road.

Witnesses said Pieper and Veluz were trying to buy marijuana. Pieper, who had met Jenkins' co-defendant, Luc Pierre-Charles, at school, had dabbled in drugs, but had changed his lifestyle. He met Veluz, newly arrived from New York, at a party. When Veluz asked Pieper if he knew where he could find marijuana, Pieper contacted Pierre-Charles' brother. Pieper and Veluz ended up in a car with Jenkins and Pierre-Charles later that evening.

Prosecutors say the teens were shot because Pierre-Charles believed Pieper was helping rival drug dealers.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Pierre-Charles and Jenkins. In 2009, a jury convicted Pierre-Charles, who received a life sentence. However, an appeals court overturned that conviction and granted Pierre-Charles a new trial, saying jurors should not have been allowed to see a video of Pierre-Charles' brother discussing the case with his parents in an interview room.

Rules prevent prosecutors from seeking death a second time.

If Jenkins is convicted of first-degree murder in this case, he could face the death penalty.

A new pretrial conference in his case is set for April 4.

Tainted jury pool forces judge to postpone Pasco murder trial 03/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 10:05pm]
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