By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- In a surprise twist, Joshua Lee Altersberger, 21, who was awaiting trial on charges of gunning down Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Nicholas Sottile on Jan. 12, 2007 entered a plea of guilty Friday afternoon in a Polk County courtroom.
Altersberger reportedly said, "I'm doing it because I wanted to take responsibility and man up to what I did."
Nicholas Sotille's brother, Jimmy Sotille, isn't having any of it.
"This is just his last-ditch attempt to get pity," Sotille said. "He shouldn't even use the term 'man.' A man doesn't go around killing police officers.
"He's a typical coward trying to get out of what he did. He didn't (plead guilty) for the sake of my family, he's doing this for himself. Why wait two years and at the last minute pull this?"
The state had announced the intention of seeking the death penalty and Altersberger's plea does not change that. A sentencing jury will be picked and testimony presented to it, so it can decide whether he should be put to death. The presiding judge will be the final arbiter. That phase of the process begins March 23.
"No matter what, this thing is still up in the air," Sotille said. "This guy can't be trusted. It's like he's calling the shots -- he pleads guilty and everybody says 'thank you, thank you.'"
"The sad part is even if he gets the death penalty, it will be years and years before it's carried out. In other countries it's 30 days and you're dead, especially with a confession."
Sotille added that in this country the discussion centers on the cost of the death penalty.
"We've gotten away from the moral issues," he said.
The evidence against Altersberger is overwhelming, including statements he posted on his MySpace page on the Internet the day of the killing, bragging of his actions. Prosecutors think the weight of that evidence is what led to the guilty plea.
Altersberger had been pulled over on U. S. 27 for a routine traffic stop. A passenger in the car, Quintin Jerome Kinder, has said Altersberger had announced his intentions to kill a police officer prior to the event. He himself fled the car, running into an orange grove to hide without warning Sottile that Altersberger had said he was going to kill the trooper when he was pulled over.
For Trooper Sotille's family, his loss is still overwhelming.
"Maybe this will mean a little less pain for my father," his brother said, "maybe a little less pain."