Club Blu shooting trial continues Monday after prosecutor’s unexpected death

Published: May 2, 2022 8:54 AM EDT
Updated: May 2, 2022 6:07 PM EDT

A high-profile murder trial is underway again after its lead prosecutor was found dead in his home over the weekend.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office and state attorney both said Assistant State Attorney Anthony “Tony” Kunasek was not murdered.

After questions over the weekend on how the trial of Kierra Russ, the first of five suspects in the deadly 2016 Club Blu shooting, will ultimately proceed Monday morning, both sides came to an agreeance.

After the court convened Monday morning, both prosecution and defense said they wanted to finish testimony, then send the jury home and come back the next day for closing arguments.

The judge additionally questioned each juror individually to discuss whether they looked anything up on the case, did research, or watched the news over the weekend.

After the questioning of the jurors, the trial continued at 10:15 a.m.

The judge took his rightful place on the bench, the defendant was in her seat, and so was her attorney, but the prosecution was missing its lead attorney. A development that was impossible to ignore.

“I first want to offer my sincere condolences to Tony Kunasek’s family and friends Mr. Kunasek’s death is a devastating loss to the legal community as he was a valued friend and collogue and he will be greatly missed,” said Judge Nicholas Thompson.

Prosecutor Kunasek was found dead in his home on Saturday. This being a murder trial involving members of two gangs some people immediately wondered how he died. The sheriff answered that question.

“We, unfortunately, worked a death investigation I’ll tell you it appears there’s no foul play in this death investigation there’s no public worry there’s no foul play,” said Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno.

The defense, the prosecution and the judge worked out a plan to keep the Kierra Russ trial on track.

They polled the jury to determine whether anyone was paying attention to the case in the media. Once they were satisfied that no one knew of Kunasek’s death, the trial continued.

Friend and attorney Lance Dunford said Kunasek’s loss is a tragedy for all of Southwest Florida.

“I think Miss Fox made a statement on behalf of the city attorney’s office on the number of lives in our own community that he himself personally has touched and what he’s done to ensure that our community remains safe. So his passing is certainly something that will leave a hole in our community,” said Dunford.

Last week, Prosecutor Kunasek made his case against Kierra Russ. “State asks the jury to find the defendant guilty in the shooting that resulted in the death of two innocent people,” said Kunasek.

Kunasek died unexpectedly in his home on Saturday. On Monday, his co-counsel Sara Miller came to court alone, prepared not to let the case go.

Russ declined to take the stand herself on Monday, but jurors still heard from her.

Miller played a tape of Russ’ recorded statement the day she was arrested in 2020. “I don’t have nothing to do with what y’all investigating… And if I say something, it’s like it’s being flipped,” said Russ in the recording.

The prosecution reminded the jury of the two people who died outside Club Blu that summer night in 2016; 18-year-old Stefan Strawder and 14-year-old Sean Archilles.

“He loved basketball. Basketball was his sport,” said Archilles’ brother DSean.

DSean didn’t want to talk about the trial but he did want to talk about his little brother.

He said he’s planning his second annual “Do it for Sean” basketball camp. A free camp for kids grades 6-12 who play in his brother’s honor.

“I didn’t really play basketball. But when he passed away, I decided to pick up the sport. I raise no money. I don’t I don’t want anything out of it personally, but a whole bunch of smiles and kids being able to just play basketball and train and get better at their craft,” said DSean.

On Tuesday, both sides will deliver closing arguments in the Russ trial.

Also awaiting trial for the 2016 Club Blu shooting are Tajze Battle, Derrick Church, Don Loggins, and Demetrius O’Neal.