The capital murder trial of James Bannister is set to go forward in a little over two weeks.
Bannister Jury Selection Set for August 14
Terence Lenamon’s motion for a continuance of the August 2017 trial date was denied by the judge after a hearing earlier this month. It was not his first continuance motion. The judge appears firm on the Bannister trial beginning with jury selection on August 14th.
For details on that July 2017 hearing read the coverage by Katie Pohlman, "Attorney denied more time for quadruple murder case," published in the Ocala Star Banner.
Now, here’s the thing. Terry Lenamon isn’t going to comment here in this blog post about this situation, you can read what he has to say in the Ocala news coverage of the case (quoting his arguments to the bench).
Why not? For one thing, it’s a pending case. For another, he’s busy doing the work of getting ready for this trial as well as juggling his other cases and running a busy law practice. (That’s why he has a co-author.)
Things to Consider
But there are things to share about this situation. Answers to some questions that might be asked about what’s going on here.
Here are some things I can share, from my perspective as a lawyer setting over in Texas:
Time and Money
All trials, civil or criminal, boil down to time and money. It takes time to prepare a case for trial before a jury, no matter what’s in controversy. And it takes money to do the job.
Nowhere are these two things more critical than in a death penalty case. Capital cases are by definition going to involve the (1) guilt phase and (2) sentencing phase.
Two Phases of a Capital Case
If the accused in a death penalty case is found guilty, there’s not a delay before sentencing is considered (which is the case in other jurisdictions). In Florida, the jury trial will enter the sentencing phase if a guilty verdict is rendered. Same jury, same courtroom, same trial.
So the capital defense team has to get ready for both phases in its trial preparation. Gathering and assembling authenticated, admissible evidence that deals with (1) the facts of the crimes themselves (here, multiple homicides and arson) as well as with (2) the mitigating circumstances that impact upon whether or not capital punishment should be considered for this defendant. This may include psychological expert testimony, evidence of childhood trauma, etc.
The evidence in the guilt phase and the evidence in the sentencing phase do not overlap. So, preparation for the death penalty trial is complex. It’s a huge undertaking. And it takes time and money to get it ready to go (along with preparation of opening statements, cross-examination questions, closing arguments, etc.).
Death penalty cases, therefore, will take longer to get to trial than smaller, simpler criminal matters. That’s the nature of this kind of case.
In capital cases, the defendants usually do not have the financial wherewithal to pay for their defense lawyer and his team. The federal constitution’s right to counsel comes into play. They have court-appointed lawyers, like Terence Lenamon, that are appointed to defend them.
Court-appointed attorneys don’t get paid the same hourly rate that private practice lawyers demand (and get). They get paid by a set government schedule. And they don’t have the client retainers to cover expenses for things like investigators, research costs, etc. They have to cover those litigation costs from state funds, too.
Indigent defense in a death penalty case is a cost balancing act. The representation has to be effective and zealous, but every penny has to be carefully spent.
Death On the Table
Add to all this the sobering reality that someone’s life is on the line here. The capital defense lawyer must always have in focus that if there is a guilty verdict, then his (or her) job will be to try and stop an execution from being part of the sentencing. That’s a huge factor in these cases that simply does not exist in other trials, civil or criminal.
For More Information
Hopefully this provides some background information for our readers on what’s happening here in this particular Florida death penalty trial that’s beginning next month.
For more details, check out
- the e-book that Terry and I wrote several years back,The Death Penalty Indigent Defense Crisis: Representing the Poor when the State wants to Kill Them and it’s Paying Your Bill;
- and read Terry’s letter to a blogger, published here as "Terence Lenamon’s Position on Capital Punishment."