5:26 p.m. EDT April 18, 2012
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester, Jr., who’s been on the bench 15 years and has a great deal of experience with high-profile murder cases, on Wednesday was assigned the George Zimmerman murder case.
It was originally given to Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler, but she recused herself Wednesday after Zimmerman’s attorney asked her to step aside because of a possible conflict of interest: Her husband is the law partner of Mark NeJame, who’s been hired to comment on the case for CNN.
All criminal cases in Seminole County are assigned by chance, based on a rotation system. Next up in that rotation was Circuit Judge John Galluzzo. He, though, could not accept the case because he formerly practiced law with Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara.
O’Mara is also the godfather of one of Galluzzo’s four children.
So Galluzzo stepped aside, passing the case to the next judge: Lester.
He has already made plans to preside at Zimmerman’s bond hearing. It’ll start at 9 a.m. Friday and be in Recksiedler’s courtroom, 5D at the Seminole Criminal Justice Center.
Dozens of news organizations are expected to be there. Zimmerman’s case has become a cause célèbre and one of the most racially divisive in the country.
He shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old Feb. 26, as the teenager walked through Zimmerman’s Sanford neighborhood. Critics accused Zimmerman of racial profiling and Sanford police of botching their investigation.
When police did not immediately arrest him, protesters took to the streets in cities across the country.
Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, the state attorney in Jacksonville, ordered Zimmerman’s arrest April 11 on a charge of second-degree murder.
Lester, 58, was elected judge in 1996 by challenging an incumbent.
He is popular with attorneys, including Wayne Klinkbeil, who was an assistant public defender assigned to Lester’s courtroom in 1997. Lester, he said, is a very good judge.
He is consistent and a tough sentencer, Klinkbeil said, “very in control of his courtroom, very straightforward.”
In court, Lester is very by-the-book. He calls defendants “sir,” and expects people to be on time. On Jan. 18, 2005, he had at least three defendants taken into custody when they showed up for court late.
The judge’s daughter, Alexandra Lester, 26, a member of the Florida Bar, said she has never saw her father agonize over a ruling.
“He basically told me it should not be hard to make the right decision if you follow the law,” she said.
The judge has a great deal of experience with criminal trials, including high-profile cases. He gave Michael Reynolds two death sentences plus a life prison sentence for beating and stabbing a Geneva couple and their 11-year-old child to death in 1998.
Lester sentenced ax murderer and handyman John Michael Buzia to death in the slaying of a 71-year-old Oviedo man.
And Lester eased into the outside world a schizophrenic killer, Stephanie Gardner, an Oviedo woman who had been locked in a state mental hospital for a decade after being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting deaths of her mother and father.
Lester ordered her released to a Jacksonville group home in 2001.
In 1992, while in private practice, he helped keep the man who tortured and murdered 5-year-old Ursula Sunshine Assaid from being released early from state prison, said long-time friend and former state legislator Gary Siegel.
Donald McDougall was about to be released after serving 10 years of a 34-year sentence, but Lester, Siegel and others traveled to Tallahassee on Christmas Eve, met with the state’s corrections chief and an assistant Florida attorney general and lobbied to keep McDougall locked up.
That prompted then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth to order a halt to some early releases and a roundup of some inmates who had earlier been set free.
Lester grew up in Orlando, the son of an engineer and executive secretary.
His hero, said his daughter, was his father, Kenneth Lester Sr., a World War II veteran and Glenn L. Martin Co. engineer who raised his family in Orlando and died last week. They talked by phone every day, she said.
The judge graduated from Boone High School in 1971, having competed on its basketball, track and swim teams.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17 and was deployed to Vietnam. When he returned, he went to college, earned a degree in accounting then went to law school at the University of Florida.
He was in private practice 17 years.
Siegel had a law office in the same building as Lester for 15 years and, for a time, lived a few blocks away. He would pop into Lester’s house unannounced, plop down in the living room and ask Lester to play the piano.
“And he’d play ‘The Long and Winding Road,’ which was my favorite, and ‘Michelle,’ other Beatles tunes .. and he played well.”
“He’s a great guy,” Siegel said, “a decent guy. A lot of these people, they get on the bench, they change. … He hasn’t changed.”
Lester is married Dorothy Sedgwick, a long-time homicide prosecutor at the State Attorney’s Office in Orange County.
They have two grown children.
[Venus/Chiron = Eris]
Kenneth R. Lester Jr. was born on August 6th, 1953 (time of birth unknown) in Chicago, Illinois according to http://judgepedia.org/index.php/Kenneth_R._Lester_Jr.
August 6th, 1953
8 + 6 +1+9+5+3 = 32 = his life lesson = Mainstream. Blockbuster. America. Americans. Patriotism.
August 6th, 1953
8 + 6 +2+0+1+1 = 18 = his personal year (from August 6th, 2011 to August 5th, 2012) = Surreal.
18 year + 4 (April) = 22 = his personal month (from April 6th, 2012 to May 5th, 2012) = Lucky. Like a three ring circus.
22 month + 20 (20th of the month on Friday April 20th, 2012) = 42 = his personal day = Everybody loves Judge Lester.
comprehensive summary and list of predictions for 2012:
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