A prospective juror in Dalia Dippolito’s murder solicitation retrial told a judge Thursday that he had a conversation with his wife after they watched a news report on the case years ago.
After hearing that Dippolito was caught on camera asking an undercover officer posing as a hitman to kill her then-husband in 2009, the man said he turned to his wife with a warning.
“I told my wife ‘be careful who you hire.’ She said ‘Don’t worry, I’d do it myself,’” he said.
Dippolito, 34, smiled as both prosecutors and her defense team shared chuckles of their own, marking a brief light moment on what was the first day of jury selection in the retrial for the escort-turned-newlywed who says her caught-on-camera murder plot was part of an acting script.
The day brought with it relevations that most prospective jurors so far have already heard about the case, fears that the entire panel would have to be thrown out and news that Dippolito may not take the stand in her own defense this time after all.
Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley had hoped to finish electing a jury by Friday from 200 prospective panelists, but scrapped those plans within a couple of hours Thursday after more than half of an initial pool of 100 raised their hands when he asked whether they had already heard about Dippolito’s case.
Kelley questioned jurors who had heard about the case one by one, a process that took the rest of the day. Another 100 prospective jurors, who were originally scheduled for initial questioning Thursday afternoon, will instead come back Friday.
Questioning each juror individually about their knowledge of the case is important because Dippolito’s 2011 conviction and 20-year prison sentence in the case were overturned on appeal. Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath should have questioned jurors individually instead of as a group about what they knew about the case.
Less than a quarter of the initial pool of 100 jurors made it immediately through the first round of questioning after telling Kelley they hadn’t heard about the case and had no hardship that would keep them from serving as jurors for the week-long trial.
Less than a dozen more were asked to return Monday after individual questioning.
Most who had heard about the case before Thursday, however, were dismissed - including those who knew there had been a previous trial and heard certain details about the case that attorneys and the judge agreed would be kept from jurors.
A handful had heard Dippolito, 34, was working as an escort when she met Michael Dippolito, who subsequently divorced his wife and married her months later.
Others had seen the viral video of Dippolito crying fake tears at what was later revealed as a staged crime scene where police officers led her to believe her plot had been successful and her husband was dead.
A tense moment in the day’s jury selection came when a prospective juror informed a court deputy that he could hear the individual jurors being questioned inside the courtroom from a live feed to a nearby conference room set up for television reporters covering the case.
After hearing the door to the room had been left open for at least part of the day, Dippolito attorneys Brian Claypool and Greg Rosenfeld asked Kelley to strike the entire jury panel.
“There’s no way to tell how deep this goes,’ Rosenfeld said.
Kelley opted to question jurors about it individually, and appeared set to move forward after the juror who reported the incident and other prospective jurors all said they could only hear voices but no specific conversations between the judge and individual jurors.
Jury selection will continue Friday and is expected to wrap Monday, when Assistant State Attorneys Craig Williams and Laura Burkhart Laurie and Claypool and Rosenfeld will get a chance to further question jurors who make it past this week.
The trial could begin as early as Tuesday. Earlier this year, Dippolito said she would take the stand in her own defense, something she hadn’t done during her first trial in 2011.
But after court Thursday, Claypool characterized possible testimony from Dippolito as a “game-time decision,” saying he would have to wait and see how Kelley rules on some pretrial issues and see what evidence prosecutors decide to present.
Claypool made it clear that the crux of Dippolito’s defense will be to attack the actions of Boynton Beach Police officers, who he claims entrapped Dippolito because it would make for a good episode of the television show COPS.
“This case is bigger than Dalia Dippolito,” Claypool said. “It’s really about holding a police department accountable for breaking the rules.”