Four years after his wife vanished, Joe Caronna's murder trial is getting underway in a Memphis courtroom with jury selection.
He is on trial for the October 2008 disappearance and murder of his wife, Tina Caronna. She vanished four years ago on Oct. 25, 2008. Her body was found two days later in an SUV Bartlett. Her hands and mouth were duct-taped.
A Shelby County medical examiner ruled the cause of Ms. Caronna's death as asphyxiation.
At the end of a five-month-long investigation, the 48-year old husband was wanted for her murder.
Prosecutors allege Caronna cashed a $30,000 annuity check made out to his wife just days after she was found murdered.
Police say in March 2009 Joe Caronna fled the city. In a highly-publicized search three weeks later, he was found at a Jackson, Tenn., motel.
Ms. Caronna's family and friends say it's finally time for the former insurance salesman to pay up for her loss by going to prison for the rest of his life.
Joe Caronna's attorneys say their client insists he did not kill his wife, but prosecutors point to Caronna's secret life.
Prosecutors say he killed his wife to keep her from discovering his financial fraud against clients, gambling losses, forgeries, and an affair.
As jury selection for his trial began on Monday, at least you could say, accused wife murderer, Joe Caronna, cleans up well.
But, temporarily trading in a prison jump suit for a shirt and slacks probably isn't enough of an image make-over to serve as an adequate defense against an expected mountain of circumstantial evidence to be presented by Shelby County prosecutors Debbie Cook and Tom Henderson over a potential three-week trial.
A pool of 100 prospective jurors were initially herded into Criminal Court Judge Mark Ward's courtroom where 16 will be chosen and then sequestered to hear the case.
As jurors streamed through they were peppered by questions from Judge Ward on just how much they did remember or knew about what the media has tabbed as a high profile case.
Some Memphis defense attorneys, who've represented clients in notable cases, say they look out for many things in the jury selection process.
"There are certain cases that are so sensational and are in the news so long that very many remember it," said Blake Ballin, Memphis defense attorney.
So, as a defense lawyer you want to make sure in picking a jury that you don't have a juror that has preconceived notions about your client, who doesn't already think of your client as guilty and doesn't think bad things about him.
"On a case with really, really tough facts, people are going to remember those and once they hear them, they're going to have an emotional response to them," said Marty McAfee, Memphis defense attorney. "You'd have this problem even more in a small town. But, Memphis is not a small city; it's a big town."
Sometimes, no matter where you are, the pool of jury selection can suddenly shrink. For instance, six of the prospective jurors in the Caronna case were dismissed because they admitted knowing someone associated with the victim.
A large jury pool also can present the threat of having someone determined to get on a jury - any jury - just to be personally engulfed in a reality courtroom drama.
"I've even had conversations with friends of mine who really wanted to be on juries because they want to be involved in the process," said Arthur Horne III, Memphis defense attorney. "They want to be able to sit through, listen to the evidence and sort of have a role in this drama."
Jury selection could take up to three days and the trial could last two weeks or more.
If convicted Caronna faces life in prison.
In addition to the first degree murder charge, a federal grand jury issued a 57-count indictment in November 2010 charging Caronna with mail fraud, insurance fraud, embezzlement and money laundering.
A trial date in U.S. District Court in Memphis is expected to be set after his state murder case is resolved.
FOX13 News reporter Les Smith contributed to this report.
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