The highly anticipated murder trial of a Key West woman charged with intentionally running over and killing a pedestrian with her Mercedes Benz and then aiming the vehicle at a bicyclist will likely take place in the Southernmost City, against the wishes of her defense attorneys.
April Thomason, 46, killed Stephanie Collins, 49, who was walking with her friend on the sidewalk along South Roosevelt Boulevard around 6 p.m. Sept. 16, 2015. The friend jumped out of the way, but Collins didn't move in time before Thomason's car jumped the sidewalk and mowed her down, according to a Key West police arrest report.
Assistant public defender Kevin McCarthy Tuesday asked Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia to hold Thomason's trial 90 miles north of Key West in Plantation Key because he fears she cannot have a fair trial in the city, where the dental hygienist was well known among the local community.
"I don't think we can pick a jury in Key West," McCarthy told the judge and Assistant State Attorney Colleen Dunne during a hearing at the Plantation Key courthouse, where Garcia presides.
Dunne argued most of the witnesses are from Key West and shouldn't have to make the almost two-hour drive every day for the trial, which could take up to two weeks. Collins' mother and her friends wrote Garcia pleading with him to keep the trial in Key West.
"There are Key West citizens who are victims who have urged us to file the motion" to have the trial in Key West. The case was originally assigned to Judge Wayne Miller, but when he retired, his cases were split between Garcia and Judge Mark Jones.
Garcia said Tuesday jury selection will begin Sept. 17 in Key West. If then it appears an impartial jury cannot be selected, the trial will be moved to Plantation Key.
"I am leaning toward trying this in Key West," Garcia said.
Thomason is charged with second-degree murder, two counts of attempted second-degree murder, leaving the scene of a fatal crash and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
She is pleading not guilty by reason of temporary insanity because she said she was going through withdrawal that day after not taking Xanax for eight days. She told Key West police that as she was coming down off the anti-anxiety medication, she began praying while sitting inside her car at the beach. As she prayed, "she began to shake and her feet pointed up and down," officer Kuniko Keohane wrote in her report.
She also told police God is responsible for making her run over Collins, according to the report.
"She said she didn't know if she hit the female, because God arched her back, causing her to look up, so she did not see the female," Keohane wrote.
But Thomason did admit aiming her car at the bicyclist, Jorge Cunedo.
"She could not tell me why she did, only that she aimed at the bicyclist," Keohane wrote.
A man jogging nearby that day also said Thomason tried to run him down. Walter Fraddosio Jr. was staying at the Sheraton Suites Hotel on South Roosevelt. He said he saw Collins get run over, and then the Mercedes came after him. As the car neared him, he was preparing to jump the sea wall into the ocean, he told police.
Moments before the incident, Fraddosio said he saw a woman standing beside the same car "screaming hysterically at the trees and salt pond across the street," according to Keohane's report.