With the abrupt ending of today's jury selection in Pinellas County, speculation seemingly spiraled out of control over what caused the adjournment. Noticeably absent from the courthouse cafeteria at lunch today was Jose Baez, and he did not return to the courtroom when the session reconvened at 1:00 pm. Late this afternoon, Jose issued a statement to several media outlets:
"Today's adjournment was due to a private matter. Please stop the speculation, as jury selection will continue at 8:30 tomorrow morning. No further statements will be made."
Of course, we have learned we can't believe everything that comes out of this defense. Prior to that statement, first thoughts swelled around an appeal filed by the defense over Judge Perry's order denying their motion challenging the process of jury selection. That couldn't have been the reason. If the defense decided to go ahead with an appeal, they would be doing it on their own time, not the court's. In other words, the judge would not stop any court proceeding because of an appeal.
This leaves two possible scenarios, prominent Orlando attorney Mark NeJame told me this afternoon. "It could be due to a serious personal matter. The court offered its compassion and understanding. Or there's a plea in play."
Judge Perry is a taskmaster and he's done everything he can to move the process along at a good clip. This morning, he told the attorneys that he's tried to conduct jury selection in a fair manner by taking into consideration the rights of Casey, as well as those of the prospective jurors. Many of them have been in limbo for over a week now.
Earlier in the day, rumors spread that Jose had fallen ill, but there was nothing to substantiate it other than the fact that fellow defense attorney Ann Finnell has been under the weather, but would the judge really postpone something this important over a case of the sniffles? No. It had to be something personal, something serious enough for Judge Perry to postpone it, or there's a plea arrangement and Jose needs time to work on it.
If it's something serious, I hope and pray Jose's family is well. Assuming it is a plea in play, what would prompt it so suddenly?
"This is not unusual at this late stage. As a matter of fact, this is something that arises in many cases of this nature," NeJame said. I told him about the frequent sidebars of late. "A quiet plea may have been in the works for some time now and a final one was offered. The state could have said, 'We've got 11 jurors. We'll offer you life in prison and drop the death penalty, but you've got to take it before the 12th juror is picked and they're sworn in.' Take it or leave it, in other words. After that, all deals are off the table."
I asked him if it could be any other sort of deal. "Yes, there are lots of possibilities. The four charges of lying to law enforcement won't amount to much, but there's still aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter. If the first-degree murder charge is reduced to a second-degree homicide, plus aggravated child abuse, she would still be looking at 40-50 years in prison."
No matter what combination it might be, Casey would still go away for a very long time, and that could explain her tears as Judge Perry ended court today. Did she have a sudden "come to the Lord moment" as Mark pondered?
We may soon find out what the drama was all about.
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