DADE CITY — Stalled two years ago because of a chatty prospective juror, the trial for one of two men accused in the 2006 roadside execution-style killings of two Wesley Chapel teens is set to begin Monday.
Tyree Jenkins, now 28, is one of two co-defendants in the shootings 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, authorities said. His mother disputes that claim, saying Pieper was never into drugs but merely gave Pierre-Charles rides after befriending him at school.
Witnesses say Pieper 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 his brother discussing the case with his parents in an interview room. Pierre-Charles' retrial is tentatively set for April 7. 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. He is currently serving a life sentence for a Tampa murder that took place in 2008.
A judge ruled in 2012 that jurors won't get to hear about that case unless defense attorneys bring up Jenkins' character.
It was that case that halted the 2012 trial, when a prospective juror was overheard discussing it in the jury room. Circuit Judge Susan Gardner tossed out the entire panel and later ordered the juror into court to explain. However, she could not determine whether the juror's comments came before or after the panel was told not to discuss the case, so she let him go and warned him to use caution if he were ever called for jury duty again.
Postponing the trial, prosecutor said, cost taxpayers about $12,000 because many witnesses had to be brought in from out of state.