Victim in Fla. case to return home

Won't share ordeal at killer's sentencing

March 23, 2001|By Ludmilla Lelis | Ludmilla Lelis,ORLANDO SENTINEL

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A judge has imposed strict limitations on victim-impact testimony from Seth Qubeck, the only one of three Howard County friends who survived a gruesome 1998 fight -- so the Columbia man says he's returning home.

Qubeck, who had displayed his 17 stabbing scars to a jury, was prepared to take the stand for a fourth time, as the jury now considers whether to impose the death penalty on Jonathan Trull, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of two of his friends.

Qubeck likely would have recounted his suffering and described what the loss of Matthew Wichita and Kevans Hall II, both also of Columbia, has meant.

However, Circuit Judge Shawn L. Briese has decided to limit such testimony from the victims and their families.

One of those limitations is that only one friend can testify for each of the victims. Because two other friends have flown in from Maryland to testify, Qubeck has decided to go home.

"There's nothing more I can do," Qubeck said outside the courtroom yesterday.

A 12-member jury will spend at least a week hearing more testimony in the case.

Jonathan Trull, 30, is the only one of the three brothers to be convicted of first-degree murder in the case. Although the judge will ultimately decide Trull's punishment, the jury can recommend whether he should get life in prison or the death sentence.

The jury will not recommend a penalty for Joshua and Christopher Trull, who were convicted of aggravated battery and aggravated assault.

Since 1992, family members and friends of murder victims have been allowed to testify in death penalty cases about the killings' impact on their lives. Such a statement, called "victim-impact testimony," is highly emotional, involving the display of photos, family heirlooms, poetry readings and other statements read by often-weeping family members. However, the judge, who has been very cautious throughout the trial, is limiting the amount and the content of the victim-impact testimony.

Briese has been known to limit victim testimony in the past.

In a high-profile 1991 murder case, Briese refused to let a jury hear any testimony from the victim's family but allowed testimony from the convicted man's family.

Later that year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that victim-impact testimony is legal and Florida law was changed in 1992 to allow it.

In the Trull case, Briese ruled that family members may present a computerized slide show that includes childhood photos of Wichita and Hall.

But a video showing Wichita playing basketball and his funeral will not be allowed.

Qubeck can't testify about his 17 stab wounds received during the same attack in which his friends were stabbed to death, and no one will offer opinions about the crime, the judge ruled.

The judge and attorneys have been reviewing the victim-impact testimony, revising statements and cutting some portions.

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