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Onstott's lawyer working to toss statement

Published February 23, 2007


TAMPA - David Lee Onstott and his mother sat in a room at the Falkenburg Road jail, their first meeting since he had become the chief suspect in the disappearance of a Ruskin girl.

Microphones hidden by detectives captured their solemn conversation, silence and sobs. They searched for answers about how he had landed there.

"Tell me what happened baby," Refugia Whitten urged her son. "Tell me."

"Sometimes I feel so cold inside Mama," Onstott told her. "Sometimes I feel like I'm possessed."

By the end of that night, April 16, 2005, authorities said Onstott had confessed to killing 13-year-old Sarah Lunde.

He goes on trial next month for first-degree murder. But first his attorney wants Onstott's incriminating statements to his mother, a fellow inmate and detectives thrown out.

Assistant Public Defender John Skye played the recording of the emotional conversation between Onstott and his mother to prove that Hillsborough County sheriff's detectives ignored repeated requests for an attorney.

Four of those detectives took the stand Thursday. All maintained that they followed the rules during the days between when Lunde disappeared from her home and when Onstott was charged with the crime.

Skye honed in particularly on Cpl. Steve Lewis, a 14-year employee of the sheriff's office who had an active role in investigating Lunde's disappearance.

On more than one occasion, Lewis said, he and other detectives told Onstott about his right to an attorney. He recalled Onstott saying he wanted to talk to a lawyer, though Lewis said he did not try to facilitate such a meeting.

But, Skye asked, didn't Lewis also tell Onstott that if he saw his attorney before his mother on April 16, he likely would be sent back to a holding cell without seeing his mother at all?

"He'd go back to jail, yes," Lewis said.

"Weren't you attempting to talk him out of seeing his attorney?" Skye said.

"No sir," answered the detective.

Onstott's attorney at the time, Pat Courtney, testified that he left the jail without seeing Onstott after a jail official said he wanted to see his mother instead. Courtney and Onstott spoke by phone for about eight or nine minutes a few hours later.

Earlier Thursday, Onstott's former cell mate testified about his role as a confidential informant for jail detectives hoping to glean information about Lunde's whereabouts.

Robert Pollay, who recalled on the witness stand that he had "six or seven" felony convictions, said Onstott never outright confessed to the crime in his presence.

But he recalled the concerned look on Onstott's face when another inmate asked on April 13, three days before Lunde's body was found, if they had heard about the missing girl.

"He snapped up out of his bed," Pollay said of Onstott, describing his face as "white as a ghost."

Then Pollay heard Onstott ask, "Did they find her body?"

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 813 226-3337 or

[Last modified February 23, 2007, 00:42:47]

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