Lee Coel

PHOTO PROVIDED

PHOTO PROVIDED

Lee Coel is charged with manslaughter in the death of Mary Knowlton in 2016.

By ANNE EASKER

Staff Writer

The trial of the former Punta Gorda police officer who fired the bullets that killed 73-year-old Mary Knowlton in 2016 has been delayed one week later than previously scheduled.

The trial was previously set for Oct. 14 but will now begin with jury selection Oct. 21.

Coel is charged with manslaughter in relation to the incident, which took place at a community demonstration at the police department for the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 9, 2016. Coel reportedly believed his gun was loaded with blanks when he fired the fatal shots.

His trial has been moved to Lee County in order to be able to seat a jury who has not been biased by news reports or social media that may have represented him in a negative light.

In a recent motion, his defense attorneys asked for a continuance “no earlier than Oct. 28, 2019, and preferably between January 13 and March 30, 2020.”

The motion claimed more seasonal residents would be in the area between January and March.

“Given the Court’s position that the jury pool in Lee County significantly increases with the arrival of part-time residents, and that part-time residents may be less infected by the intense pretrial publicity and social media attention that this case has generated, it makes sense to try the case during the January-March window,” Defense Attorney Thomas Sclafani wrote in the motion.

However, Judge Margaret Steinbeck chose to move the trial just one week to begin Oct. 21, allowing for defense attorneys’ personal plans the week prior.

Jury selection is scheduled to last one week, with opening statements beginning the following week on Oct. 28. Coel’s next court date is a pre-trial conference on Sept. 6 at the Charlotte County Justice Center.

Email: anne.easker@yoursun.com

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