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Some statements by Onstott tossed

Published February 24, 2007


TAMPA - Incriminating statements that David Lee Onstott made to his cell mate about 13-year-old Sarah Lunde's April 2005 disappearance won't be allowed at his murder trial, a judge ruled Friday evening.

Onstott's attorneys convinced Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta that the cell mate acted as a secret agent for law enforcement and improperly interrogated Onstott.

The full extent of what inmate Robert Pollay told deputies has not been made public, and Friday's ruling means it will not be revealed in court.

But prosecutors can still use Pollay's observations of Onstott's behavior. Pollay said Onstott went "white as a ghost" when the subject of Sarah came up and started "tearing up" when Pollay suggested the girl deserved a proper burial if she was dead.

Also probably admissible is Pollay's testimony that he heard Onstott ask, "Did they find her body?" when a fellow inmate mentioned the missing girl.

Decisions about more significant statements in the death penalty case are still to come.

Ficarrotta heard arguments late into the evening Friday but did not rule on whether statements Onstott made to his mother and to detectives should be allowed at his first-degree murder trial next month.

The evidence is critical to the case. Authorities say Onstott admitted to killing Sarah, yet they have no physical or forensic evidence linking him to the death of the Ruskin girl.

Onstott is said to have confessed on April 16, 2005, the same day Sarah's body was found. But his attorney said the statements were made after Hillsborough County sheriff's detectives ignored Onstott's repeated requests for an attorney.

Defense attorney John Skye said detectives were under enormous pressure to solve the case, which came just months after Jessica Lunsford's abduction and killing in Citrus County.

Onstott sat in jail on decade-old misdemeanor warrants from Michigan after becoming the chief suspect in Sarah's case.

During a hearing this week, detectives maintained that they read Onstott his rights several times and stopped questioning him whenever he asked to talk to a lawyer. When he asked to call his attorney on April 16, they dialed the phone for him.

That call wasn't enough, Skye said. Onstott was entitled to have an attorney present for the questioning that followed, he said.

Prosecutor Patricia Turpin said Onstott was more sophisticated than most suspects, given his prior felony arrests and trials. He knew he had a right to an attorney, she said. He didn't want one "because Mr. Onstott wanted the death penalty for the murder of Sarah Lunde," she said.

"I don't want to bargain, Mama," he told his mother when she visited him April 16.

Detectives recorded the conversation but misled the mother and son into thinking it was private, Skye said.

Prosecutors said Onstott knew not to expect privacy in jail and that he incriminated himself more than once.

Cpl. Bryan Herndon, assigned to supervise Onstott, testified that he wouldn't stop talking.

"At some point, Mr. Onstott told you in detail how he killed the girl, didn't he?" prosecutor Jay Pruner asked.

"Yes, sir," Herndon said.

Ficarrotta indicated he would make a ruling some time next week. "I need some time to think about this," he said.

Staff Writer Carrie Weimar contributed to this report.

[Last modified February 24, 2007, 06:06:28]

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