In recent months, Mesac Damas' legal team has faced a daunting task: humanizing a man charged with slaughtering his family.
While Damas, accused of killing his wife and five children, hasn't been in court since July 2011, his lawyers have been working behind the scenes, taking depositions and finding witnesses for the 36-year-old. Damas' is one of several high-profile court cases pending in 2013, some of which are scheduled to reach trial.
No future court dates have been set for Damas, but Neil McLoughlin, one of Damas' assistant public defenders, said depositions should be finished in 2013.
"We're progressing, but it does take time," McLoughlin said.
In addition to depositions, lawyers are tracking down character witnesses who could testify should Damas' case reach the death penalty stage. That process, known as "mitigation," has been time-consuming because Damas hails from Haiti, McLoughlin said.
"In the simplest terms, we're looking for anything good about Mr. Damas and his past, those kind of things," McLoughlin said. "To humanize Mr. Damas and to show he had many good qualities are what you do in mitigation."
Damas remains in jail, receiving only one regular visitor: his mother Marie, who has seen him 25 times this year through mid-December. He also received visits in 2012 from his brother in March and his father on Thanksgiving weekend.
Damas has been deemed competent to stand trial and lost a motion to represent himself at trial in July 2011. He has confessed to the 2009 killings and displayed erratic behavior in court hearings, disrupting the proceedings with his religious preaching.
Among the other high-profile defendants with pending cases headed into the new year:
The case against a North Naples man accused in one of Collier County's most savage killings inched forward in 2012, with details trickling out on the decapitation of Suzanne Bishop last year.
Christopher Serna, 35, is charged with second-degree murder after police found Bishop dead in his apartment in July 2011.
There were 129 cuts and stab wounds to the 45-year-old's head and body, according to a medical examiner's report released this summer. The marks on her torso formed a pattern of vertical and horizontal lines.
Bishop, a mother of three, had dated Serna. He was later romantically linked to the victim of another 2011 killing, Christine Moretz, whose estranged husband now faces a second-degree murder charge in her shooting death.
Serna's public defender, Connie Kelley, was unavailable for comment. His next court date is a hearing Jan. 31, however no trial date is set. Serna remains in jail with no bond set.
Lawyers continue to take depositions and share evidence in the case against Moretz, charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of his estranged wife Christine Moretz at Physicians Regional — Pine Ridge.
Moretz, whose last court date was in October, is scheduled for trial in early April. He remains in jail without bond.
In his most recent court appearances, Moretz, who police said shot himself under the chin after shooting his wife, hasn't needed any visible medical devices. He previously needed a wheelchair and tracheal tube in court.
Two months after his repatriation to the U.S. from Mexico, Gonzalez remains behind bars in Lee County, charged in the 2008 death of Tia Poklemba in San Carlos Park.
Gonzelez is accused of negligent manslaughter with a weapon and failing to remain at the scene of a crash involving a death, both first degree felonies.
Lee County Sheriff's investigators believe Gonzalez, now 27, ran over Poklemba and left her to die on the a street, then fled the U.S.
Years of stagnation in the case ended in May, when a tip lead authorities to Gonzalez in Mexico. He was extradited in October to Lee County, where he remains in jail with a hearing scheduled for Jan. 24.
Already pushed back several times, the sexual battery case against Bullock, a former Collier County Sheriff's Office deputy, is now scheduled for early April.
Bullock remains free on $35,000 bond. Arrested in April 2010, Bullock is accused of molesting a 15-year-old boy at Coastland Center mall.
Bullock's lawyer, Jerry Berry, declined to comment about the progress of the case. A trial was last scheduled for August.
Alajbegu, charged with vehicular manslaughter in North Naples resident Steven "Lugnut" Duzick last year, earned one bit of freedom this year.
A judge ruled in September that Alajbegu no longer needs to wear an alcohol monitor, notable considering the 36-year-old isn't charged with DUI manslaughter. No alcohol or drugs were found in Alajbegu's system after the October 2011 hit-and-run, though troopers seized a substance that mimics marijuana in his SUV.
Alajbegu is still being tracked with a GPS monitor as he remains free on $500,000 bond. A case management conference is scheduled for Jan. 7, with no trial date set.