A Florida judge abruptly scrapped jury selection for the trial of a man accused of killing 9-year-old Jessica Marie Lunsford, saying prospective jurors knew too much to decide the case fairly. The Orlando Sentinel says that members of the thinning jury pool whooped and high-fived in the courtroom after Circuit Judge Richard Howard’s announcement. The case prompted Florida to toughen laws for sex offenders. The judge will seek a new jury later this year outside the local judicial circuit. Some 3,500 people were called the Lunsford cse, but three full days of questioning showed that picking a jury of local residents would be futile.
The defendant is John Couey, 47, could be sentenced to death if convicted of killing the child whose body was exhumed last year from a shallow grave under steps of the trailer Couey shared with his sister. Authorities say the child was buried alive. This week, Judge Howard seemed rattled by the sudden parade of prospective jurors wanting out. He announced a change in plans, saying that after 12 jurors and four alternates were seated, they would be moved to another county and sequestered immediately — meaning they could not even pack. The pool panicked. One man asked who would drive his car home. The judge said perhaps a court employee could do it.