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Two-thirds of jury pool have heard of Bloomingdale rape

TAMPA — In this week's Bloomingdale library rape trial, will attorneys be able to seat an impartial jury in Tampa?

After hours of rigorous queries Monday about pretrial publicity, that question remains unanswered.

One certainty, going into day two of jury selection today: People remember this case.

Out of a pool of 100 potential jurors, 71 were flagged after filling out a survey about media exposure.

Many remembered hearing about the teenage girl raped and beaten the night of April 24, 2008, as she tried to drop off books outside the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library.

Some recognized defendant Kendrick Morris, 19, and his charges, noting he was convicted earlier this month in the 2007 rape of a 62-year-old day care worker.

Morris' public defenders predicted they'd have a challenge.

This summer, they asked the judge to move the trial out of town. Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe decided to try seating a Tampa jury first.

Jury selection in Morris' previous trial took just a day.

But this case is different. It has been the subject of news stories and fundraisers.

This victim, an 18-year-old East Bay High School student, suffered multiple strokes, causing her to lose her vision and her ability to speak, swallow and hold her head upright.

In a jury questionnaire, several people recalled her wheelchair.

The media-exposed jurors weren't dismissed immediately. Tharpe kept them in a separate courtroom for much of the day so attorneys could focus on the 29 who said they had no knowledge of the case.

The key was to try to pick a jury of six from that smaller pool. If attorneys can't, they will have to start individual interviews in the other group.

By Monday's end, the group of 29 had shrunk to 23.

More said they remembered news stories. Two said they couldn't be impartial in a rape case. One said he had bad judgment. Another couldn't understand enough English.

Further complicating selection was the length of the trial, which Tharpe said could stretch two weeks.

"I would be mad," one potential juror said about having to come to court for two weeks. "I would be like, every morning, this sucks."

As the clock inched toward 6:30 p.m., the potential jurors squirmed. Someone asked for dinner. Tharpe decided to call it a day. He told everyone to go home, ready to return today to answer more questions.

And he urged them not to look at this — or any — news story.

Reach Alexandra Zayas at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Two-thirds of jury pool have heard of Bloomingdale rape 09/27/10 [Last modified: Monday, September 27, 2010 11:49pm]
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