Thursday, May 29, 2008

Prosecutors Won't Seek Death Penalty Against Onstott

By THOMAS W. KRAUSE The Tampa Tribune

Published: May 28, 2008

Updated: 05/28/2008 01:03 pm

TAMPA - Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty against David Lee Onstott, who is charged in the death of 13-year-old Sarah Michelle Lunde.

On Friday, the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office filed notice with the court withdrawing its intent to seek execution, should a jury convict Onstott.

"That's good news for Mr. Onstott," said Assistant Public Defender John Skye. "Other than that I have no comment."

Prosecutors declined to comment.

The case against Onstott is expected to be difficult for prosecutors at trial, scheduled to start Aug. 11. They have no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and the majority of Onstott's statements to law enforcement were thrown out by a judge.

Onstott had asked for an attorney but was not provided one, Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta previously ruled. Last month, the 2nd District Court of Appeal backed up Ficarrotta on that ruling.

David Parry, a private defense attorney not affiliated with the case, said prosecutors might be thinking that jurors will hold the evidence to a higher standard if the death penalty were a possibility. When the evidence is not as solid as prosecutors would like, jurors might be more willing to convict if they do not think it will result in execution, he said.

On April 9, 2005, Sarah had just returned from a church trip. She briefly spoke with her brother and his friend, who went out to get food. Two days later, her mother reported Sarah missing.

Her body was found in a muddy pond near her Ruskin home, anchored with concrete blocks.

Investigators immediately focused on Onstott, a sometime boyfriend of Sarah's mother. Sarah's brother said Onstott was at their mobile home the night Sarah disappeared.

Over several days, detectives interrogated Onstott, who had signed forms agreeing to speak to them without a lawyer present. Then, on April 14, 2005, Onstott told a detective that he would not sign any more forms without speaking with his attorney.

Minutes later, Onstott made a statement to another detective. The detectives continued to interview him over the next two days without a lawyer.

Ficarrotta ruled that Onstott's statements could not be used. The first detective had an obligation to tell the second detective that Onstott asked for a lawyer. They also could not initiate anymore conversations with him.

At trial, prosecutors will use Sarah's brother as a witness that Onstott was at their home.

They will also be able to use statements Onstott made to a nurse and a jail deputy.

After Onstott spoke with detectives, he was sent to the jail infirmary on suicide watch. There, he made an incriminating statement to a nurse and a detention deputy, sheriff's officials have said. Ficarrotta has ruled that those statements could be used at trial. The appeals judges agreed.

Those statements have not been released publicly.

Reporter Thomas W. Krause can be reached at (813) 259-7698 or

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