FORT PIERCE — As a grand jury is being convened to consider indicting him for first degree murder, Eriese Tisdale is pleading not guilty and is asking for a jury trial, according to court documents filed by his assistant public defender.
The St. Lucie County grand jury is to meet Wednesday to determine if the evidence warrants filling a charge of first degree murder — a step that is needed before prosecutors will announce if they are seeking the death penalty.
Tisdale, 25, of St. Lucie County, is accused of shooting sheriff's sergeant Gary Morales at point-blank range during a traffic stop the morning of Feb. 28 on the southern outskirts of Fort Pierce, said Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl.
Sheriff's officials initially arrested Tisdale, who is in the Martin County jail without bail, for first degree murder and other charges including fleeing.
But prosecutors, can't file a first-degree murder charge until a grand jury considers the case, Bakkedahl said.
Because the grand jury hasn't met, "We have not officially made a decision whether to seek the death penalty," the attorney said.
Tisdale's public defender, Assistant Public Defender Mark Harliee, couldn't be reached for comment.
Bakkedahl expects the grand jury proceedings will last one day. A grand jury meets behind closed doors and only listens to the prosecution's evidence. Its decision isn't a conviction. It considers whether the prosecutors have enough evidence to warrant a first-degree murder charge.
Later a separate jury will be selected to hold a public trial.
For now, Tisdale is asking for one. He also is waiving his right to arraignment, to appear in court to have the charges presented to him before a judge, court documents show.
So far the Sheriff's Office arrest affidavit has few details about what preceded the shooting.
Harliee is asking prosecutors to publicly release all its case documents including photographs and recordings.
Tisdale has declined Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers' requests for interviews.