Judge considers new trial for teens convicted of manslaughter
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 three 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. A ruling is expected Friday.
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 the night 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.
Baldwin denied Jarrard’s claims. Suffering from laryngitis, she wrote her answers down for an assistant to read. She testified she never threatened Jarrard or swore at him.
``He said `Well, I don’t know about that,′ regarding the signs being stolen before the crash,″ she testified. ``I raised my voice and said, `Larry, you must tell the truth. This is important.’... I told him he did not have to look at the defendant. He could look at me during the entire trial.″
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.
Hillsborough County Judge Bob Mitchum continued the hearing late into Thursday night before saying he would issue a ruling Friday.
``I’m going to do what I would want a judge to do for me. . .I’m going to sleep on it tonight,″ he said. ``We have the lives of three young people at stake. We have the deaths of three young people.″
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, adding she believed what the three who were convicted said.
``I couldn’t go to court during the trial. If I went, I would have been sitting on the defense side, not with prosecutors.″