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1 found not guilty in pizza delivery beating

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published March 15, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - Benjamin Jablon, one of the two young men from Spring Hill accused of using a bat to beat a pizza delivery man last March in one of the more notorious crimes in recent Hernando County history, was found not guilty Wednesday night of attempted murder, armed robbery, aggravated battery and grand theft auto.

Jurors took not quite two hours to make their decision.

Jablon, 20, was found guilty only of petty theft for taking some of the pizza gotten from the crime. Circuit Judge Jack Springstead sentenced him to 60 days in the county jail. That time and then some has been served since last March as he's waited for trial.

"Based on the evidence, I think it was the only verdict they could've come up with," said Robert Attridge, one of Jablon's two attorneys from New Port Richey. "It's a good feeling. I feel good for the Jablon family. They get their son back."

"This whole year I knew he didn't do it," father Jimmy Jablon said. "I knew he was innocent."

Prosecutor Bill Catto said outside the courtroom the jurors came up with the verdict they thought was fair. "That's their right. We respect that."

Jablon was charged along with Devin Politis, 18, of the March 28, 2006, beating of 21-year-old Pizza Hut driver Russell Sanford. Politis pled guilty last month and got 15 years in prison. Part of that deal was that he would testify against Jablon.

The initial sheriff's reports say a call was made just before 10 that night from Politis' cell phone, and some pizzas and Pepsis were ordered to an address at a dark cul-de-sac, and when Sanford got there he was hit on the left side of his head. When he came to, his car was gone, and so was the pizza and his money. He says he staggered for more than a mile to get help and was flown to Tampa with a fractured skull.

For the last three days, though, the trial laid bare some slipshod detective work, and it was clear from testimony that other people could've and maybe should've been charged in this case. Prosecutor Bill Catto had little to nothing to work with. There were 20 state witnesses, three more from the defense, openings and closings, but it ultimately came down to this: Were Politis' words believable enough to put Jablon in prison for the rest of his life, or might this have been an initiation rite for Politis for the gang called Folk Nation?

Politis wasn't just important to the state's case. He was the case. There was no physical evidence linking Jablon to the crime.

So Politis took the stand Wednesday morning. He was in a red jail jumpsuit and handcuffs and shackles. He swore to tell the truth.

His story went like this: He went over to his mother's house. Jablon was dating his sister. His sister needed money. He said Jablon started talking about robbing a pizza man. He said he thought he was joking and didn't think it was going to happen but followed Jablon because he was "an idiot kid." He said they found the metal bat in a ditch and that Jablon asked to use his cell phone and made the call to Pizza Hut.

The plan?

"We were going to beat him down and take his money," Politis said.

He said Jablon wanted him to hit Sanford with the bat but that he got "scared" and Jablon took the bat and "did it himself."

"He didn't hesitate," Politis said. "He just hit him."

Then the defense got up and made him look like a liar. Cross examination was a ruthless 55 minutes.

Politis said he didn't make any calls that night after the attack. His cell phone records show he made a call to the mobile home where he was staying.

He told the State Attorney's Office last summer that no real plans were made. He said Wednesday there at least two conversations.

He said Wednesday Jablon used a fake female voice when he called Pizza Hut. But the name given on that order was Donald.

"Were you lying then," Attridge asked Politis, "or are you lying now?"

Attridge asked Politis if he was "lying to protect yourself to point your finger at Mr. Jablon."

Politis said yes.

He was asked about Folk Nation and if he knew about it. He said "a little bit."

Was he trying to become a member?

"No sir."

Did he know about the gang's initiation rites?

"Yes sir."

Did he know that one initiation rite was a random act of violence?

Politis' response: "It's not random. It's all for a reason."

After Politis on the stand was Politis' mother. She said Jablon confessed to her. But that apparent confession, Jablon's attorneys pointed out, supposedly came on a day when Jablon was already in jail.

A group of other teens who are members of Folk Nation and were "persons of interest" early in the investigation were pulled over the morning after the attack. They said they were at Wal-Mart at the time to buy a car stereo. No car stereos were bought there that night, though, and the security video doesn't show them coming into the store.

The defense called some of those guys Wednesday afternoon. One of them said Politis was trying to become a member of Folk Nation. The other came to court dressed in a baggy T-shirt that said THUG LIFE.

He was asked if he had ever witnessed a Folk Nation initiation rite.

"Yes," he said.

He was asked if he knew Benjamin Jablon.

"No," he said.

The jury went out at 6:59.

Then the wait.

Then the word the jury had reached a verdict.

The Jablons sat in the third row. They held hands and sat still. Benjamin Jablon and his attorneys rose to hear the court clerk read the verdict at 8:52 p.m.

Attempted murder ...

Not guilty.

Jimmy Jablon pumped his fist. Terri Jablon let out three low heaves of sobs and put her head in her husband's chest. The court clerk read the verdicts on the rest of the charges, and when she was done Benjamin Jablon hugged his attorneys and rubbed his eyes with his right sleeve, and then with his hands, and then again, and then still.

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

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 09:02:01]


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