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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

CrimProf Robert Batey Discusses the Secrecy of Grand Jury Testimony

Batey Stetson University's College of Law CrimProf Robert Batey recently discussed the grand jury testimony's long history of secrecy, which is often difficult to break, with concern to the Fort Myers attorney representing an accused killer wants to know what was said in March when a grand jury didn’t indict his client and what has changed that has led to the recent indictment.

“I’m trying to find out for me whether there were witnesses who gave testimony different than what they gave later on,” said attorney Gary Bass. “In order for Mr. Mendez to get a fair trial.”

Bass is scheduled to argue today before Circuit Judge Thomas Reese why testimony presented to the grand jury should be disclosed. But that position could be a difficult one to argue successfully, given the long history of grand jury secrecy. A quick poll of local defense attorneys revealed that arguing this type of motion successfully is rare.

Mendez is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of his wife, Whitney Mendez, and his mother-in-law, Lorena Stone, in July 2006. Mendez was arrested in February, but a grand jury in March declined to indict him on first-degree murder charges, saying the evidence was “circumstantial, consisting largely of DNA found at the scene.”

Because of the state's speedy trial law, prosecutors had to charge him by Aug. 1 but said they would only do so if detectives found new evidence. In late July of this year, less than 24 hours before the law would have precluded Mendez from prosecution, State Attorney Steve Russell announced Mendez would be charged with second-degree murder.

A judge, CrimProf Batey said, will have to balance the issues and decide whether a fair trial is impeded by keeping that testimony closed.

“I can understand the defense’s desire to get this information now,” he said. “But I can also see the counterargument of the prosecutor given the secrecy of the grand jury.”
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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