Friday, March 20, 2009

Suspect admits to killing officer

By Jason Geary
The Lakeland Ledger

Published: Friday, March 20, 2009 at 6:30 a.m.

BARTOW — A 21-year-old Sebring man pleaded guilty Friday to the shooting death of Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Sottile in 2007.

Joshua Lee Altersberger accepted responsibility for the killing even without a plea deal in place and the possibility of the death penalty still looming over his head.

“I just feel that it’s time for me to man up and take care of my responsibilities,” Altersberger said.

He said he spoke with his lawyers and decided to plead guilty to first-degree murder.

“It was my choice,” Altersberger said. “And I made that choice.”

The case will now move into a penalty phase, with lawyers presenting evidence and arguments about whether Altersberger should be executed or receive life in prison.

A jury must still be chosen to recommend whether Altersberger should die for the trooper’s slaying.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday.

Circuit Judge J. Michael Hunter must give the jury’s recommendation “great weight” under Florida law.

Altersberger was driving erratically on Jan. 12, 2007.

Sottile, 48, attempted to conduct a traffic stop on Altersberger near Lake Placid.

Altersberger told his passenger that he was going to shoot the trooper. The passenger ran away, and Altersberger shot Sottile when he approached the driver’s side window, according to prosecutors.

A large-scale manhunt ensued in Highlands County to find Altersberger. He was arrested the following day.

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