Judge denies motion to sequester jury in Chuluota man's murder trial

Court to take up motions on MRI, suppress evidence next week

CHULUOTA, Fla. – Attorneys representing the Chuluota man accused of killing his parents and brother want the jury to be sequestered during his murder trial.

The judge denied the defense's motion during a hearing Friday.

Grant Amato, 30, is accused of shooting and killing his mother, Margaret, father, Chad, and brother, Cody, at their Chuluota home Jan. 25. According to a newly released discovery this week, members of Amato's family told investigators they think he killed them.

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Amato's defense team filed almost two dozen motions, which were heard by the judge during the hearing. One of the biggest discussions surrounded the defense's motion to sequester the jury during the trial.

Amato's attorney argued news coverage and social media could potentially taint the jurors, preventing them from being fair and impartial.

"Nowadays in 2019, social media has exploded, judge, and it's going to be so tempting for the jurors to either ... they're going to have their cellphones. They're going to be maybe watching TV. You can give the cautionary instructions, but in 2019 I just think it's a different environment," Chief Assistant Public Defender Jeff Dowdy said in court. 

The judge disagreed and denied the defense's motion.

"At this point, I understand your concern. I can tell you I will take extra precaution as far as how to even instruct them in regards to social media and otherwise, but I'm not inclined to sequester them," Judge Jessica Recksiedler said.

News 6 legal analyst Steven Kramer weighed in on the judge's decision.

"Is this the amount of publicity that gives rise to potentially taint the jurors, poison their minds, influence their decisions?" he asked. "What the judge apparently decided here was while this case has gotten some media attention, there's been a handful of articles and reports about it. At this point, the publicity surrounding the case does not rise to that level."

Another hearing is scheduled Wednesday. Amato's defense filed a motion requesting an MRI be done on his brain, writing in the motion that it would help their expert "render a more precise opinion regarding the defendant's mental condition."

Kramer said this could play into an insanity defense.

"What they must suspect is that there's some type of structural abnormality. Is there a tumor? Is there a brain lesion?" Kramer said. "Is there some type of structural change that would influence this man's behavior that would somehow be germane and relevant to this trial?"

The defense also filed a motion to suppress evidence, specifically statements Amato made to investigators after he was taken into custody. Amato's attorneys claim he was not read his Miranda rights.

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"If he made statements when he was clearly in custody, clearly under arrest, and he made a statement and he was not read Miranda, then the prosecution is going to have a tough time in that situation explaining that," Kramer said. 

Amato's murder trial is expected to start in July and last two weeks. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

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