Saturday, May 17, 2008

Barwick's killer doesn't want a jury to help decide sentence

Decision will be left up to the judge alone

By Suevon Lee


Published: Friday, May 16, 2008 at 6:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 16, 2008 at 7:34 p.m.

OCALA — Andrew Allred has waived his right to a jury, so only a judge will decide his punishment for the murders of Tiffany Barwick and Michael Ruschak.

The jurors' seats won't be the only ones left vacant: Allred doesn't want to attend the penalty phase, where the state and defense will argue whether he deserves the death penalty or life in prison.

Allred pleaded guilty earlier this month to two counts of first-degree murder. He didn't want a trial. But a penalty phase is still necessary.

During a Thursday hearing in a Seminole County courtroom attended by two prosecutors, the defendant and his lawyer, and several of Ruschak's relatives, Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton, Jr. granted both of Allred's requests, according to court records.

Both prosecutors — Stewart Stone and Kyan Ware — and Allred's attorney, Timothy Caudill, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Allred was arrested on Sept. 24, 2007, the night he shot and killed Ruschak, 22, and Barwick, 19, an Ocala native who was Allred's former girlfriend.

According to police reports, Allred, now 21, broke into Ruschak's rented home in Oviedo that evening, shot Ruschak four times in the chest and back, then shot Barwick, whom he found hiding in the bathroom while on the phone with a 911 operator.

He shot her at least seven times in the chest, wrist and legs, authorities said. Allred also shot Ruschak's roommate, Eric Roberts, in the leg when Roberts tried to stop the rampage.

Allred used a gun he had purchased shortly after his breakup with Barwick, records showed.

Allred was suspicious of the relationship between Ruschak and Barwick, a graduate of West Port High School. Authorities said that in the days leading up to the murders, the defendant hacked into his ex-girlfriend's bank account and online social networking sites, where he sent offensive messages pretending to be Barwick.

Although Barwick expressed her concerns about Allred to a Seminole County sheriff's deputy the day she died, the law prevented authorities from making an arrest.

The day Allred pleaded guilty, the Florida Senate unanimously approved the Barwick-Ruschak bill, which would broaden state law to afford victims of dating violence the same protections as those of domestic violence. Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to sign the bill into law.

The penalty phase is like a trial, except the only question is what punishment — life in prison or the death penalty — the defendant deserves.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers can call witnesses, present evidence and argue about the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case.

A jury typically hears all this and then makes a sentencing recommendation. Under Florida law in capital cases, a judge must take into consideration a jury's recommended sentence, but does not have to abide by it.

According to George "Bob" Dekle, a law professor at the University of Florida and a former prosecutor in Lake City, one reason Allred might want to waive a jury during his penalty phase is to avoid jury bias.

"If there is a tremendous amount of pretrial publicity, [defendants] may feel that a judge would be less likely to be influenced by pretrial publicity than a jury," he said.

As to Allred's request to not be present in court, Dekle said it could be one avenue to set Allred's case up for a possible appeal.

"Some people want to trick the system and see if they could have something happen [in circuit court] that the appeals court won't like," he said.

Court records from Thursday's hearing show, however, that Eaton ruled that Allred would need to be held "close by," so that his defense attorney could consult with him.

During a pre-trial hearing July 17, the judge will set the date of the penalty phase.

Suevon Lee can be reached at or 867-4065

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