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Retrial in drownings begins

A prospective juror in a murder retrial on Thursday recalled thinking the defendant should be killed for driving his girlfriend's vehicle into an Everglades canal and drowning two of their young sons after a night of heavy drinking.

The jury candidate was excused on the opening day of jury selection for Kirk Billie, who could face a life sentence if convicted of second-degree murder in his sons' deaths seven years ago.

Billie's conviction in the first trial was thrown out because jurors heard unrelated testimony about his beatings of girlfriends.

Circuit Judge Alex Ferrer had hoped to seat a jury Friday. But three-fourths of the initial pool of 50 juror candidates remained to be questioned about their knowledge of the case.

"When I saw the news and I heard what happened, I said, "They should kill that man,' " one prospective juror told the judge. His reaction was the strongest among those questioned Thursday about their recollections of news coverage in 1997. The first trial was on the Court TV network.

Others had strong opinions on a question pivotal to the defense _ whether Billie knew his sons were in the sport-utility vehicle.

A woman said, "I recalled not being able to understand someone not knowing they were in the car with them." She said she could "perhaps change my view" during trial. She remained a potential juror, though defense attorney Gary Rosenberg argued she should be disqualified.

The judge said he is not required to find jurors with no opinions, just those without fixed opinions about the highly publicized drownings.

The defense maintains Billie didn't know his sons were in the back seat of the Chevrolet Tahoe because of his drinking, darkness, tinted windows, broken interior lights and the mother's lie that the children were spending the night at her mother's house.

Prosecutors say the Miccosukee Indian knew 3-year-old Keith Billie and 5-year-old Kurt Billie were in the SUV when he drove it into the canal just off the tribe's reservation.

Both sides agree Billie was trying to punish the boys' mother, Sheila Tiger, for not staying home with their three sons. Billie took the Tahoe from Tiger's cousin, who got out carrying the youngest child.

Billie's Indian heritage has been a complicating factor in the case.

The tribe and prosecutors fought for years over jurisdiction. Tribal leaders said they handled the matter internally. They denounced his prosecution as "white man's justice" and are paying for his defense.

In the first trial, Billie was charged with first-degree murder. But that jury's second-degree murder conviction meant he could not be retried on any stronger charge.