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Tampa Uncuffed

Battery trial draws unusual prosecutor

By COLLEEN JENKINS and ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published February 3, 2007


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Homicide prosecutor Jay Pruner turned up in an unusual place this week: trying a battery case in county court.

This was no run-of-the-mill misdemeanor. In November 2002, Matthew Lewis, 18, was beaten to death during a fight at a friend's birthday party in Lutz. Two years went by before authorities arrested Ryan Christopher Racine and Jeremey Vincent Ray.

But they weren't charged with murder.

Authorities investigated Lewis' death as a homicide, which is how Pruner got involved. The medical examiner said Lewis died from "commotio cordis," a rare condition that results from being struck in the chest in a way that disrupts the heart's electrical system and causes cardiac arrest.

Investigators said Racine and Ray both hit Lewis but couldn't prove which blow killed him or that either of the men intended to cause his death. Witnesses, mostly college students who had been drinking, gave widely varying versions of events.

"It's a horrible tragedy," Pruner said, and very frustrating for a prosecutor.

On Thursday, a jury found Racine and Ray guilty as charged. County Judge Thomas Barber sentenced Racine, now 25, to three years in jail on three counts of battery.

He sentenced Ray, now 24, to a year in jail for one count of battery. But first, authorities must find him. After jurors left to deliberate Wednesday afternoon, Ray took off and didn't return to the courthouse.

- - -

Since joining the Tampa office of Carlton Fields in November 2003, Mac Richard McCoy has racked up more than 670 pro bono hours.

For that, the Florida Bar's Young Lawyers' Division honored him with its Pro Bono Service Award at a Jan. 25 ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court.

The trial attorney's pro bono work runs the gamut. He contributed more than 458 pro bono hours to represent a Florida death row inmate seeking post-conviction DNA evidence testing, according to a news release from the Florida Bar.

He also conducts intake interviews and consultation with prospective pro bono clients for Bay Area Legal Services. Recently, he helped an elderly man who said his wife had evicted him from the home he owned before their marriage, emptied his bank accounts and incurred thousands of dollars in debt under his name.

McCoy won a final order that restored his client's ownership of his home and ordered the wife to repay him for the debt.

- - -

Dalshon Walton's family wanted a life sentence for the man who shot a 17-year-old senior during a November 2005 fight at the McDonald's near King High School.

Otis Lorenzo Neal, now 20, had been on probation for an armed car burglary when he killed Walton and wounded three others.

Walton's family was disappointed this week when Neal was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and three counts of attempted second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, 10 of which he must serve. Seven years of probation will follow.

Prosecutor Steve Udagawa tried to explain the plea agreement.

In the months after the shooting, he said, there were conflicting witness reports. Some couldn't identify Neal. Some moved out of state. They seemed unwilling to testify.

"Many of them, I felt," Udagawa said, "even if we had a subpoena, they wouldn't show up."

Times staff writer Justin George contributed to this report. Got a tip? For cops news, contact Abbie VanSickle at 813 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com For courts news, contact Colleen Jenkins at (813) 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 06:11:34]


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