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Jury Selection in Hernando County Death Penalty Case Begins

Attorneys involved in the capital murder case against John Kalisz in Hernando County spent all day Tuesday questioning prospective jury members. They begin another day of jury selection on Wednesday morning.

Kalisz, already convicted of killing a sheriff’s deputy in Dixie County, is accused of murdering two Hernando County women and attempting to murder two others.

As is typical, the lawyers spent considerable time asking potential jurors about their opinions on the death penalty. Two people indicated that they could never vote in favor of execution due to their religious convictions, regardless of whether the law allowed it. Two more expressed opinions very strongly in favor of the death penalty. All four were stricken from the panel.

Other prospective jurors were also dismissed from service throughout the day for various reasons. Forty remain to continue the process on Wednesday.

Prosecutors reportedly asked many questions about jurors or family members with military service, previous interaction with Hernando County sheriff’s deputies and what the potential jurors believed causes people to commit crimes.

The media reports that Kalisz’s defense attorney asked questions about ownership of firearms, hobbies, whether they believe alcoholism is a disease and what they thought about the Fifth Amendment “right to remain silent.”

Both sides have already agreed that there will be no mention of the killing of the Dixie County sheriff’s deputy, as any such mention would be prejudicial to the determination of Kalisz’s guilty in the Hernando County case.

According to law enforcement, Kalisz shot his sister Kitty Donovan, her daughter Manessa Donovan, Kitty Donovan’s office manager Deborah Tillotson and her employee Amy Wilson in Donovan’s home near Brooksville. Tillotson and Kitty Donovan were killed.

Kalisz then allegedly fled north in his van on U.S. 19 to Cross City, where he was confronted by Dixie County sheriff’s deputies. Kalisz fired a shot out of his van window and killed Reed. Kalisz was shot at least six times before his arrest.

Attorneys estimate the trial could last as long as two weeks if Kalisz is convicted of first-degree murder and a penalty phase of the trial becomes necessary. In a case involving the death penalty, the defendant’s guilt is determined first by the jury. If the jury finds the defendant guilty of a capital crime, a separate hearing is held with new witnesses and evidence so that the jury can consider all of the legally relevant factors necessary to making a sentencing recommendation to the court.


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