By BRAD DICKERSON
This jury will not decide guilt or innocence, but rather life or death.
Joshua Lee Altersberger, 21, opted out of having a trial when he pleaded guilty March 13 to shooting and killing Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Nicholas Sottile on Jan. 12, 2007. Starting Monday, jury selection begins in Bartow anyway.
Since the state filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty for Altersberger, jurors still have to hear testimony to help them make a recommendation of whether he goes to jail for life or gets the maximum punishment.
Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin is limited on the evidence he is allowed to present starting March 30.
"There might be a very short opening statement the following Monday and then we are allowed to put on some witnesses to show what happened," Houchin said Friday. "We are limited to just the aggravating circumstances."
If the case had gone to trial, Houchin would have begun calling his 50 witnesses to the stand Monday. Since he is now limited on the evidence the state can offer jurors, he said there will only be three or four witnesses to talk about what happened the day of the shooting.
Houchin also plans to have between four and six family members and friends give victim impact statements during the penalty phase about how Sottile's death has affected them.
He added he is not sure how many witnesses the defense plans to put on, but said there are no limitations they have to follow. The testimony may take between two and three days, according to Houchin.
Once all the testimony is heard, the jury then deliberates and presents a recommendation to Judge Michael J. Hunter as to a punishment.
Altersberger will not be formally sentenced until a presentence investigation is conducted and another hearing scheduled.
A Remembered Officer
The Altersberger case may be nearing its conclusion, but those who knew Sottile, no matter how well, are still sharing their memories.
Lake Placid Police Chief Phil Williams said his few run-ins with Lake Placid native Sottile were usually at local eateries like Schooney's.
"I saw him eating with his wife a couple of times," Williams said. "I didn't know him on a personal basis like a lot of folks did."
Williams, however, said the 24-year FHP veteran was "well thought of" and had a "great family."