Thursday, April 2, 2009

Altersberger Penalty Trial: Day 4

BARTOW - Closing arguments were presented in the penalty trial of Joshua Lee Altersberger, and the case is now in the hands of the jury.

Altersberger pleaded guilty on March 13 to shooting and killing Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Nicholas Sottile during a Jan. 12, 2007 traffic stop in Highlands County. A Polk County jury was chosen last week to hear testimony and make a recommendation to Judge J. Michael Hunter of a punishment of either life in prison or the death penalty.

"If Nicholas Sottile were not a law enforcement officer, engaged in the performance of his official duties, he would still be here today," said Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace, co-prosecutor along with fellow Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin.

Wallace told jurors that this circumstance deserved a tremendous amount of value and weight.

The jury was also asked to look at whether the crime was committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner.

Previous testimony from an eyewitness revealed that Altersberger put his hands up in the air as Sottile approached the defendant's car. The trooper kept his hand near his weapon until he felt safe. Once Sottile relaxed his hand, Altersberger dropped his and brought them back up with a gun in hand and shot the victim.

Wallace also devoted some of his closing recounting the testimony of Rosalie Altersberger, Joshua's mother, who told of a family history filled with bad parenting decisions and bad role models for the defendant and his two sisters.

"The question becomes, 'How does that relate to the decision that he made to slay the police officer?'" Wallace asked.

In her closing, defense attorney Debra Goins asked jurors to make a "reasoned decision in the face of emotion" and look to the "better angels of your nature."

"Choosing life for Joshua Altersberger does not diminish the life of trooper Sottile," Goins said. "Josh has never been on an even playing field. What he did he has admitted to, and it's a horrible thing, and he will live with that for the rest of his life."

Goins said Joshua's dysfunctional home life had a negative impact on his psychological development and are the reasons why he is who he is today.

"It's not surprising how he got there and it's so sad that the kind of intervention that was needed could not have been put in place," Goins said.

(source :

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