tampabay.com

Trial in vicious beating starts

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published March 13, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - Attorneys gave opening statements and the victim testified Monday in the attempted murder trial of the Spring Hill teen who is accused of using a bat to beat nearly to death a Pizza Hut delivery man late one night last March.

Benjamin Jablon, 20, is charged with attempted murder, armed robbery, aggravated battery and grand theft auto in one of the most vicious crimes in recent Hernando County history. Jablon could get life in prison if he's found guilty.

Devin Politis, 18, Jablon's co-defendant, admitted to his participation in the attack on Russell Sanford, 21, pleaded guilty last month to all those charges and was sentenced to 15 years. He will testify against Jablon as part of his deal.

"He will tell you that Benjamin Jablon was part of this," prosecutor Bill Catto said Monday in his undramatic, 25-minute opening statement.

Jablon's attorney was more direct. Her opening took only eight minutes.

"He was not there," said CC Conde of New Port Richey. "He didn't do it."

What's not up for debate: Sanford was beaten badly, and Politis had a role in it. What's still very much a question, though, is if somebody else was there that night, and if that somebody was Jablon.

Politis says he was. Jablon says he was not.

The trial is expected to last at least until Wednesday and probably will go longer than that.

On March 28, 2006, according to interviews, sheriff's reports and court documents, Jablon was dating Politis' sister. She told them she needed money. So a call was made just before 10 p.m. from Politis' cell phone, for two extra-large pizzas and two 2-liter Pepsis from the Pizza Hut on U.S. 19 to be delivered to an address on Crescent Road.

Sanford went out in his gray 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer.

Dark. Footsteps from behind. The bat to the left side of his head.

Sanford came to some time later, and his vision had gone blurry, but he managed to walk over a mile to Village Pizza on Deltona Boulevard.

People there called 911.

He was flown to Tampa.

A priest said last rites.

Sanford had a fractured skull, a broken jaw, a collapsed lung and a bruised brain. He was in a coma for five days and was in the hospital for almost two weeks. He was supposed to go into the Navy last August, but that didn't happen and he now works at Wendy's.

There was some physical evidence from that night. It all points to Politis. The call to Pizza Hut was made from his cell phone. The machete that wasn't used in the attack but was left at the scene: his. The bloody pants: his. The fingerprints on the pizza boxes: his.

The primary evidence implicating Jablon is Politis' version of the events.

"Not one piece of evidence," Conde told jurors Monday. "Not one piece of physical evidence."

On Monday, Sanford said on the stand that he couldn't see faces on March 28, 2006, that he didn't know who attacked him, that it was too dark. He said he wasn't able to identity either of the suspects in pictures he was shown later. He said he couldn't remember much.

But here's what he does remember:

"I remember pulling in front of the house," he began, "getting out, and there was someone standing in front of the house."

Someone approached and told him he had to go inside to get some money. That person went around the side of the house.

"I was just standing," Sanford said. "Then I heard someone running, I heard footsteps, and I started to turn."

When he woke up, his car was gone, the pizza was gone and the money was gone.

"I knew I was in kind of bad shape because I couldn't see very clearly."

His face and his clothes were covered in blood.

"I was just walking," he said.

Sanford said a hazy vision of Village Pizza came into view "near the end of my walking."

"I saw a big, bright white light."

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.