Two capital murder trials are under way today in the Hillsborough County Courthouse. Local media has noted the large number of people on hand as two separate, large jury pools have been assembled for jury selection in the two cases. Humberto Delgado, Jr. is accused of killing Tampa police officer Michael Roberts. Vincent Brown is accused of killing Jennifer Johnson, the mother of his child.
The court has called 150 people for each jury pool. The 300 potential jurors are reportedly occupying entire lobbies on the first and sixth floors of the courthouse, managed by more than a dozen bailiffs. Another 50 potential jurors are apparently on standby, to be called later in the week if necessary. Each trial will seat a jury of 12 people plus several alternates.
Before a jury is chosen in each case, the court, prosecutors and defense attorneys will have the opportunity to question each potential juror. Some questioning will be done as a group; additional questioning will occur on a detailed, one-on-one basis. When necessary and appropriate, questioning may even occur privately, outside of the hearing of other potential jurors.
Questioning will include topics such as attitudes about the U.S. justice system, personal experiences with law enforcement and the courts, ability to sit on a jury for several weeks, knowledge of the case and any witnesses, opinions about the death penalty and ability to follow the court’s instructions of law.
For the most part, the jury for a death penalty case is much the same as for any other criminal jury. The jurors must listen impartially to the evidence and determine guilt after deliberation. If a defendant is convicted in a death penalty case, though, the jury’s job becomes much different. The court will ask for its recommendation as to whether a defendant should be executed.
Before the jury is even chosen, the jurors must first be “death-qualified”. People who do not believe that the death penalty is ever warranted, in any case, cannot sit on a death penalty jury. Conversely, people who believe that every homicide warrants execution of the perpetrator are also barred from these juries. Qualified jurors must be able to follow the current Florida laws on capital punishment.
Florida state law allows for imposition of the death penalty under certain conditions. The jury and, if appropriate, the sentencing judge are required by statute to weigh specific aggravating factors against specific mitigating factors, keeping their minds open while listening to the evidence. Anyone who is unable to keep an open mind either way should not be seated on the jury.