Jurors heard two vastly different explanations of what caused former UCF football player Ereck Plancher's death.
Plancher, a 19-year-old football player, collapsed and died following a March 18, 2008 offseason conditioning workout supervised by UCF coach George O'Leary and his staff.
His parents, Enock and Gisele Plancher, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the UCF Athletics Association, alleging its employees failed to treat Ereck Plancher for complications from sickle cell trait that an Orange County autopsy report stated contributed to his death.
"This case is about a tragic, but more importantly, an unnecessary death that occurred right here in Orlando, Florida, on March 18, 2008," Plancher family attorney Steve Yerrid said during his opening statement.
UCF Athletics Association attorney Dan Shapiro stated during his opening statement that medical experts would testify Plancher's death was caused be a congenital heart condition that could not be detected before his death. Shapiro stated the condition known as fibromuscular dysplasia blocked at least 90 percent of the blood flow to Plancher's heart.
"The evidence will be that it was no one's fault," Shapiro said of Plancher's death.
Shapiro also told the jurors medical experts would testify complications from sickle cell trait is a benign condition that could not have caused Plancher's death.
Yerrid, who addressed the jurors first, told the group they would have to weigh the testimony of paid experts who determined Plancher died of a heart condition within the last two weeks against testimony of Orange County medical examiner Joshua D. Stephany, who was not paid by either side to provide his opinion. Yerrid stated Stephany determined three years ago Plancher died of complications from sickle cell trait.
Shapiro told jurors Stephany's conclusions were influenced by emails from a national advocate for research of sickle cell trait related deaths.
While Shapiro described Plancher's final workout as a sequence of routine offseason drills, Yerrid called it a grueling workout.
Yerrid told jurors during his opening statement they would hear testimony O'Leary ordered water and athletic trainers be removed from the indoor practice facility during a critical stretch of Ereck Plancher's final workout when he showed signs of distress.
Yerrid told the jury Robert Jackson, the sole athletic trainer present for Plancher's last workout, didn't know the player had sickle cell trait. Yerrid said the jury would learn UCFAA employees did not follow guidelines for treating athletes who have tested with sickle cell trait while treating Plancher.
Circuit Judge Robert M. Evans and the attorneys selected six a jury of six people and two alternates after three days of questioning a pool of 58 candidates.
The final portion of jury selection was especially contentious, with Evans denying UCFAA attorney Kevin Taylor's attempt to strike two jurors because the judge did not think Taylor presented race neutral objections. Yerrid lobbied to keep the two black women on the jury because he said his clients, who are black, deserved to be evaluated by a fair racial representation of their community.
UCFAA renewed its objections to the two jurors so that it could properly appeal the judge's jury selection decisions. The two women Taylor tried to strike were sworn in as members of the six-person jury.
The attorneys continued to spar, frequently interrupting each other with objections. Evans warned the attorneys he would not tolerate interruptions that weren't based on sound legal arguments.
Within the first five minutes of Yerrid's opening statement, the UCFAA attorneys objected twice and the judge had to have a brief discussion away from the jury with the attorneys.
Yerrid showed the jury a pictures of Ereck Plancher playing football, posing with family members, posing with friends. He also showed images of Plancher's extensive academic awards. Yerrid said no one in the courtroom on either side would have a bad thing to say about Plancher, who was an honor student and scholarship athlete.
He said he some of Plancher's teammates would tell the jury during the trial, "He's the type of person I aspired to be."
Yerrid showed pictures of the UCF football weight room and the indoor practice facility, highlighting the scene of Plancher's final workout.