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Judge quits murder case over juror chats

In an unusual twist, Circuit Judge Roger Alcott stepped down from the murder trial of Nelson Ivan Serrano on Wednesday at the request of both prosecutors and the defense.

In a written motion, lawyers said Alcott had ignored discussions among potential jurors about the case.

"I don't believe that what's occurred here can be remedied any other way," said State Attorney Jerry Hill.

Alcott, 61, declined comment. A former defense attorney, he was appointed to the bench by Gov. Jeb Bush five years ago.

As a result of Wednesday's ruling, Serrano's expected six-week trial has been rescheduled for July 18. He is charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the December 1997 killings at Erie Manufacturing in Bartow, in which Serrano had been a partner.

It is the worst multiple murder case in Polk County history.

Jury selection for the trial began Monday. On Tuesday, as it continued, a jury manager, Tina Hill, overheard a potential juror discussing the case, according to the motion for recusal. She told Alcott what she had heard, but he failed to tell the lawyers involved.

Lawyers for both sides, after hearing of this, filed three successive joint motions to strike the jury pool, and Alcott denied each of them. When he denied the third motion Wednesday morning, the lawyers sought to recuse him.

Alcott looked at the written motion, then left the courtroom with a promise to return in 35 minuteswith a written order. But instead, Circuit Judge Susan Roberts came into the courtroom, took the bench and said Alcott had granted the motion for recusal.

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