Participant offers details of attack
Jurors weigh the words of a man who has pleaded guilty to attempted murder.
By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published March 15, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Devin Politis said what he said Wednesday in the attempted murder trial of Benjamin Jablon.
Can he be believed?
That's the question for the jurors who were deliberating at press time Wednesday night. They've heard many things from the attorneys, 20 state witnesses and three more from the defense over the last three days, but the question by the end was only this: Are Politis' words enough to put Jablon in prison for the rest of his life? Or was this an initiation rite for Politis for the gang called Folk Nation?
Politis, 18, and Jablon, 20, were accused of the brutal beating of pizza delivery man Russell Sanford the night of March 28, 2006, and both of them were charged with attempted murder, armed robbery, aggravated battery and grand theft auto.
Politis pleaded guilty last month and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Part of his deal with the state was to testify against Jablon.
The initial Hernando County sheriff's reports say the crime happened like this: A call was made just before 10 that night from Politis' cell phone. Pizzas and Pepsis were ordered from the Pizza Hut on U.S. 19.
Sanford, 21, went out on the delivery and was hit with a bat on the left side of his head. When he came to, his car was gone, the pizza was gone, the money was gone, and his face was covered with blood. He stumbled, he says, more than a mile to get some help.
An anonymous tip led to two names. Jablon told a detective he wasn't involved but led him to the mobile home where Politis was staying. That's where authorities found the best physical evidence of the case - two Pizza Hut boxes, a smashed cell phone, and Politis' jeans with blood on them.
Politis isn't just important to the state's case. He is the case. There's no physical evidence linking Jablon to the crime.
Jablon's attorneys are Robert Attridge and CC Conde of New Port Richey. Conde's opening statement Monday put it like this: "Not one piece of physical evidence."
Then, on Tuesday, jurors heard that a group of other teens who are members of Folk Nation and were "persons of interest" early in the investigation lived at an address on a different order that came into the same Pizza Hut at exactly the same time.
This set the case up for Politis to testify.
He took the stand Wednesday morning at 10:45. He had on 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 delivery man. He said he followed Jablon because he was "an idiot kid."
"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."
The 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 no real plans were made. He said Wednesday there were 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," said Attridge, one of Jablon's attorneys, "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 whether he knew about it. He said "a little bit."
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."
Politis' mother was up next. 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.
And those other teens who are members of Folk Nation and were "persons of interest" early in the investigation? They said they were at Wal-Mart the night of March 28, 2006, 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 teens 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.
Michael Kruse can be reached at email@example.com or 352 848-1434.
For the latest updates on jury deliberations in the Benjamin Jablon trial, visit tampabay.com.
[Last modified March 14, 2007, 23:22:15]
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