JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — (The story above is from a previous, related report)
Aiden Fucci's legal team is asking St. Johns County residents about their exposure to the high-profile murder case in what could be a gambit to seek a change of venue.
The Public Defender's Office confirmed sending the email surveys, which have been landing in the inboxes of numerous St. Johns residents. The survey says each recipient is receiving the email as a registered voter (the pool for selecting potential jurors) and asks several questions about the Aiden Fucci case.
Among the questions: whether recipients personally know anyone involved in the case, whether they have ever posted about the case on social media and whether they are a passive consumer of the story or someone who actively seeks out information.
Fucci is accused of slaying his 13-year-old classmate Tristyn Bailey by stabbing her 114 times in May 2021. He is being charged as an adult and faces life in prison.
The survey*** email contains the subject line 'Murder Case Research' and reads as follows:
"We need your input on a current murder case in St. Johns County, Florida. You are receiving this invitation to participate because you are a registered voter in this jurisdiction. The survey takes less than 15 minutes to complete and will help us understand the community impact of this particular violent crime."
Some recipients wondered if the survey was legitimate or a scam, since it includes multiple questions about personal demographics and social media usage.
First Coast News reached out to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office who said the survey appears to be genuine.
"Our assumption is this survey is coming from the Public Defender’s Office," said a spokesperson for SJSO. "It seems to be a legitimate survey. Feel free to contact the PD’s office to inquire."
A Public Defender's Office spokesperson said, "I can confirm the survey did come from our office, but I can't make any other comment."
Fucci's public defender, Rosemarie Peoples, has not filed a formal motion to change the trial venue, but indicated she intends to. A recent motion cited a need for an alternate venue "as the media coverage of this case continues such that this defendant cannot receive a fair trial in any county of the Seventh Circuit nor the adjacent judicial circuits in Florida."
Florida courts typically require a good faith effort to seat an impartial jury before entertaining the idea of moving the trial elsewhere. The Florida Supreme Court requires judges to weigh five factors when evaluating the impact of pretrial publicity:
- When the publicity occurred in relation to the crime and the trial
- Whether the publicity was made up of factual or inflammatory stories
- Whether the publicity favored the State’s side of the story
- The size of the community exposed to the publicity, and
- Whether the defendant exhausted all of his peremptory challenges in seating the jury.
Juvenile law expert attorney Shannon Schott said the survey suggests Fucci's attorneys are building a case for a change of venue.
"A change of venue would occur in circumstances where there's been a lot of news media, media coverage, and there's been a lot of publicity," she said. "And in the age of social media, that publicity could be news media and mainstream news media, or it could be social media," Schott said.
Schott said the survey is extremely unusual.
"There's nothing wrong with doing this ... I've never heard of this being done. It's a great tool. It's a great resource for the potential jurors who are going to be saved weeks of jury selection and the community who could have a mistrial," she said.
"It's a very creative and very easy way to find out the answer to the question of whether or not you can receive a fair and impartial jury trial,” Schott said.
Fucci is due back in court Aug. 19 for a hearing on nine motions, including defense motions to prohibit prejudicial emotional outbursts in court and to close pretrial proceedings to the public and media.
A coalition of local news outlets, including First Coast News, have filed a motion to intervene in opposition to the request for closure.
(***We have not provided a link to this survey so as not to affect the results, which could impact the trial.)