Judge schedules trial for 2011 St. Johns County murder case

After roughly six years in the St. Johns County jail, the man accused of first-degree murder in the 2011 stabbing and shooting death of his estranged wife may finally see a jury.

 

Circuit Judge Howard Maltz, on Wednesday, scheduled the state’s death penalty case against Sean Alonzo Bush to go to trial in July.

It is the ninth time since 2015 that Bush’s case has been scheduled to go to trial.

Bush is accused of killing 35-year-old Nicole Bush, who was found suffering from multiple gunshot and stab wounds in May 2011 in her Fruit Cove home and later died at the hospital.

The most recent delays in his case came after the U.S. Supreme Court, in January 2016, struck down Florida’s sentencing process in death penalty cases, saying the process left too much of the decision to a judge and not a jury.

Under the old system, juries only submitted a penalty recommendation to a judge who made the final decision. The court also took issue with the requirement a death recommendation had to be supported a majority of the 12 jurors instead of a unanimous support.

Last year, the state legislature responded by passing a law that, among other things, changed the threshold to a 10-juror vote.

The Florida Supreme Court has since declared that law unconstitutional, and the legislature is soon expected to pass a new one requiring a unanimous juror decision for death.

But in February, the Supreme Court issued a follow-up decision saying death penalty cases could proceed in the state as judges and prosecutors await the new legislation.

Given all of that, Maltz, Assistant State Attorney Mark Johnson and Bush’s attorney, Raymond Warren with the Public Defender’s Office, seemed to agree the Bush case would be ready just after mid-year.

“If you do not consider this to be cast in stone, I think we can be prepared by July,” Warren told Maltz Wednesday afternoon, leaving the door slightly open for yet another delay.

Warren pointed out there are still as many as 20 motions pending from as far back as 2015 that Maltz will have to hear or rule on.

And the new legislation, which is expected to be signed as early as April, could prompt more.

“Between now and July, we are likely to see legislation,” Maltz told Warren when he brought up the old motions.

“And we are going to have motions to argue with that, too,” Warren said.

Those possible motions and anything else that may come up as he reviews his case file seemed to be at the heart of why Warren wanted reassurance he wouldn’t be forced to trial in July if he found he needed more time.

“Yes, I think there is a very reasonable possibility, but I am asking you that, if there is something to come up — the motion to continue, if filed — is viewed with fresh eyes without the prejudice of what I say here today,” he told Maltz.

“I will consider every motion to continue on their merits,” Maltz said. “I understand things change between now and then. I hope we can proceed to trial in July.”

Johnson and Warren told Maltz they thought jury selection for the trial would take about one week, with the trial — not counting any sentencing phase, if necessary — expected to take about two weeks.

 

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