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Letter alluding to crime is forgery

What appeared to be a confession by David Onstott won't be used in his murder trial.

By COLLEEN JENKINS
Published July 14, 2006


TAMPA - You are investigating the April 2005 death of 13-year-old Sarah Lunde, and you don't have DNA linking her killer to the crime.

You come across a letter purportedly written by suspect David Lee Onstott. It contains the line, "I killed a person."

Eureka!

Not quite.

In an example of just how twisted homicide investigations can be, authorities released a letter on Thursday that appeared to contain a confession from Onstott, who faces a first-degree murder charge in Lunde's death.

It turned out to be forged, possibly by a man sitting in federal prison for fraud.

It is unlikely jurors will ever see the letter. Florida Department of Law Enforcement analysts determined it contained multiple inks and likely was traced from another letter before the incriminating sentences were added.

Attorneys remained tight-lipped about its origins.

But a woman in Fall River, Mass., shed some light on the correspondence Thursday.

Jo-Ann Dapic, a 55-year-old woman who holds three jobs, has a laundry basket full of letters she has received in the past four years from her pen pal, Larry Edwards.

Edwards, 55, resides at the federal prison in Coleman. He pleaded guilty to charges of producing or trafficking a counterfeit device and falsely impersonating a U.S. government employee in Polk County and was sentenced in March 2002 to 84 months in prison. He used to be a cellmate of Dapic's brother's.

In April 2005, Edwards sent Dapic a letter that asked her to forward along a note to "an old friend," Onstott, who he said was now in jail in Hillsborough County. Dapic said she complied.

Three months later, in another letter, Edwards told Dapic that Onstott sent him a letter in reply.

"It turns out he is not the person I knew," Edwards wrote in the letter, which Dapic read to a St. Petersburg Times reporter on Thursday. "And thank God for that because he killed a girl, and he is a convicted sex offender."

Edwards said he had a received a letter from Onstott that contained "some incriminating things." Edwards wondered if he should turn it over to Tampa authorities.

"It is possible that I could use the letter to help me get out sooner," he wrote to Dapic.

Dapic wrote him back: "Do what's in your heart."

The handwritten letter, allegedly from Onstott and dated May 16, 2005, was the basis of a hearing in front of Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta on Thursday.

Assistant Public Defender Charles Traina argued that releasing the letter to the media would hurt his client's chances for a fair trial in Hillsborough County, where law enforcement officials say Onstott already has confessed to Lunde's murder.

"It's bad and incorrect information related to Mr. Onstott," Traina said.

But Ficarrotta agreed with attorneys from the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune that the letter would not jeopardize Onstott's trial, which is set for October. The judge released it.

Most of the letter talked about having faith in God. Attorneys wouldn't confirm whether any of it was written by Onstott, who turned 38 on Saturday.

"I wasn't sure if I should respond because there are some strange people in the world," the writer states. "I guess that sounds kind of stupid coming from me."

The judge also released two other letters typed by Edwards to a man named James. In them, Edwards talked about using the letter from Onstott as leverage on his own prison term.

Dapic said Edwards hadn't mentioned Onstott in recent letters. Until reporters called on Thursday, she had forgotten about him entirely.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 813 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

[Last modified July 16, 2006, 11:05:24]


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