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Florida trials, court proceedings now delayed through end of May

Florida’s chief justice extended an order postponing most court proceedings statewide to slow the coronavirus.

TAMPA — The Florida Supreme Court’s Chief Justice has further postponed all jury trials and other court matters, now delaying everything through the end of May to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

That means all trials and grand jury proceedings in Florida will not take place until at least June.

The latest order from Chief Justice Charles Canady also suspends the rules granting defendants the right to a speedy trial. In Florida, defendants have the right to stand trial for misdemeanor charges within 90 days of arrest and 175 days in felony cases.

He also limited courtroom activity to only those matters considered critical and essential. That includes court activities such as first appearance hearings for the newly arrested and bail hearings, should a defendant request one. Local courts are being encouraged to conduct hearings remotely via phone or video conference.

Related: Ron DeSantis suspends evictions, foreclosures for 45 days in Florida

The new measures will further delay scores of court cases across the Tampa Bay area, including some high-profile criminal trials.

Public health concerns delayed the much-anticipated trial of Steven Lorenzo, who was scheduled to face trial this month for the murders of two men in 2003. Lorenzo and his co-defendant, Scott Schweickert, were accused of drugging and torturing gay men in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. Many witnesses in the case live out of state and have expressed reluctance about traveling to Florida amid the pandemic, according to a court document filed by prosecutors.

The latest order will also delay the re-trial of Michael Keetley, the former ice cream man accused of a shotgun rampage in Ruskin that left two men dead. In February, a jury was unable to decide if Keetley was guilty, resulting in a mistrial. Keetley, who has been jailed while awaiting trial for nearly 10 years, was set to go before a new jury in May. But now his wait will continue.

Related: Steven Lorenzo appears in Tampa court, 13 years after torture murders

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