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Pasco Death Penalty Trial Begins

The first-degree murder trial of Derral Wayne Hodgkins begins this week in Pasco County. Hodgkins, a 51-year-old truck driver, is accused of killing a Land O' Lakes woman in 2006.

If he is found guilty of first-degree murder, Hodgkins faces a possible death sentence. Jury selection was set to begin Tuesday with opening statements scheduled for later in the week. Jury selection in a death penalty case can take quite some time as the panel members must be questioned very specifically about their feelings about capital punishment, in addition to other, more typical lines of questioning.

Hodgkins is accused of killing Teresa Lodge, a 46-year-old waitress who was found dead in her apartment on Sept. 28, 2006. Court documents indicate that Lodge had been stabbed in the chest seven times and her neck had been cut.

Prosecutors claim that DNA found under Lodge's fingernails belongs to Hodgkins. Hodgkins was arrested in November 2007 and has been in the Land O' Lakes Jail awaiting trial since then.

Hodgkins was on lifetime probation at the time of his arrest. The court has ruled that the jury in the current case can hear evidence that Hodgkins was on lifetime probation but cannot hear any details about his prior convictions.

The state is seeking the death penalty. In Florida, juries recommend whether a defendant should be sentenced to death. The final imposition of sentence is carried out by a judge, who can choose to follow or not follow a recommendation of the death penalty.

Hodgkins is represented by Tampa Bay area defense attorney, Bjorn Brunvand. Hodgkins maintains his innocence. The murder trial is expected to last up to two weeks.

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