Lee Coel, a former Punta Gorda Police Department officer, filed a motion Friday to recuse Judge Margaret Steinbeck from his manslaughter trial.
The motion was filed after a May 24 pre-trial conference in which Steinbeck asked the prosecutor about how long the “guilt phase” of Coel’s case would take, meaning to ask the anticipated length of his direct case.
“Judge Steinbeck’s Freudian slip cemented Mr. Coel’s well-founded fear that he would not receive a fair trial at the hands of Judge Steinbeck,” the motion stated. “Her chilling comment gave voice to her clear bias for the prosecution and against Mr. Coel.”
On May 24, Coel’s defense attorneys also argued again to move the trial out of the 20th Judicial Circuit, claiming the jury pool had been “contaminated” by negative media and was biased against Coel.
This motion was denied by Steinbeck, but she would consider moving the case to Lee County — which is still in the 20th Judicial Circuit — where she claimed half of the jury was made up of seasonal residents from Cape Coral.
Steinbeck also denied a request to set the case in January or February 2020, peak season for snowbirds. She set the trial for October.
The former police officer shot retired librarian, 73-year-old Mary Knowlton, Aug. 9, 2016, during a community demonstration by PGPD for the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce. He was told by his Lieutenant that his gun was loaded with blanks, but it was actually live ammunition.
Coel’s next appearance is a criminal pre-trial conference set for Sept. 6 at 1:30 p.m in the Charlotte County Justice Center. A trial date was set for the trial period of October 14-25.