By BRAD DICKERSON
Published: October 9, 2008
SEBRING A March trial date has been set for a Sebring man charged with killing Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Sottile.
Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin said 20-year-old Joshua Lee Altersberger will face a jury starting March 9.
Altersberger is charged with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm after previously being convicted of a juvenile offense.
The charges stem from a Jan. 12, 2007, incident, where authorities say Altersberger shot and killed Sottile, 48, a 24-year FHP veteran, after the officer stopped a 2003 Toyota Camry driven by the defendant. A passenger, Quintin Jerome Kinder, of Bainbridge, Ga., then fled into a nearby orange grove following the shooting.
Houchin said the prosecution will seek the death penalty for Altersberger, who remains in the Highlands County Jail.
Kinder, who surrendered to authorities on Jan. 13, will testify in the case, according to Houchin.
He was charged with trespassing in a cultivated grove following his surrender to authorities. Kinder was then taken back to Georgia to face a violation of probation charge.
Houchin added that Kinder is still residing in Georgia, where he is on probation. Records from Georgia's Decatur County Jail listed several past criminal charges for Kinder, including theft, burglary and possession of marijuana.
Defense attorneys had previously discussed seeking a change of venue for the case so it could be held outside Highlands County. Houchin said that, so far, no such motion has been filed.
Calls to public defender Debra Goins seeking comment weren't returned before press time Wednesday.
Professor Charles Rose, with Stetson University's College of Law, said that, in order for a change of venue motion to be granted in such cases, the defense would have to show that the jury pool has been so polluted that it would be impossible to seat a fair and impartial jury.
This could be accomplished through a legal issue, such as potential jurors hearing about a suspect's confession that a judge ruled inadmissible for trial, according to Rose.
Such was the case in the 2007 murder trial of John Evander Couey, who was eventually found guilty of raping and murdering 11-year-old Jessica Lunsford. The death penalty was recommended.
The case was moved to Miami after a Lake County judge stopped jury selection because most of the potential jurors had heard about Couey's confession that was ruled inadmissible.
It was the second change of venue granted in the case, after a judge in Citrus County - where the crime took place - ruled that high publicity would make it impossible to seat a jury.
Brad Dickerson can be reached at 863-386-5838.