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Judge considers new trial for teens convicted of manslaughter

June 19, 1997

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Three 18-year-old buddies were out driving around after a night of bowling when their white Camaro breezed through an intersection into the path of a 8-ton truck.

More than a year later, a jury convicted another group of three friends of manslaughter for pulling up a stop sign at the intersection.

Now a key witness says the prosecutor made him lie, and the mother of one of the dead teens has joined the fight for a new trial on the grounds that investigators manipulated evidence.

The two men and one woman were to be sentenced Thursday. Instead, a judge held a hearing on their request for a new trial.

Larry Jarrard, a witness at last month’s trial, said prosecutor Leland Baldwin forced him to testify that defendant Christopher Cole told him they had stolen road signs in the area hours before the fatal accident on Feb. 7, 1996.

``I told her, `Now look, I can’t really be sure.′ She said something along the lines of `Now you told me you were relatively certain. You’d better tell me what you told me that day because if you don’t, I’m going to burn your a--,‴ Jarrard said.

Jarrard, who helped Cole and another defendant dump a batch of stolen signs into a river after the accident, said he was afraid he’d be charged with destroying evidence if he didn’t go along. He was granted immunity before testifying.

Nissa Baillie, 21, Thomas Miller, 20, and Cole, 20, were convicted of manslaughter last month. Each faces 27 to 46 years in prison.

Cole, the only defendant to testify during their trial, admitted they stole as many as 19 traffic signs along the rural roads of Hillsborough County, some 20 miles east of Tampa. But the three said they didn’t take the one missing from the intersection where Kevin Farr, Brian Hernandez and Randall White were killed.

That sign was found lying on the roadside near the accident. Defense lawyers theorized a trucker had knocked it down by backing his rig into it.

Last week, Randall White’s mother said she believes investigators manipulated evidence against the three.

``I know if Randall swore to me he didn’t do something, then he was telling the truth,″ Ann Hertle said, saying she believed the convicted men’s story.

``I couldn’t go to court during the trial. If I went, I would have been sitting on the defense side, not with prosecutors.″

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