'Absurd' case? Prosecutors think not

A retrial is planned despite a scathing appeals court ruling.

By CARRIE WEIMAR, Times Staff Writer
Published August 9, 2007

TAMPA - An appeals court called the case against Mark O'Hara "absurd" and "ridiculous," but the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office is refusing to drop charges against the 45-year-old Dunedin man.

O'Hara appeared before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta Wednesday morning, his first time in court since his release from prison July 25.

During the brief hearing, prosecutor Darrell Dirks indicated his office plans to pursue a second trial for O'Hara, who was accused of drug trafficking after authorities found 58 Vicodin pills in his bread truck. He had legal prescriptions for the drugs.

O'Hara's lawyer, Ira Berman, said he was stunned by the decision. He told Ficarrotta he planned to ask for a dismissal.

Ficarrotta set a status conference for Sept. 18 and said a trial date may be scheduled then.

O'Hara said he couldn't comment on the case. With Berman at his side, he left the courthouse after the hearing. He was released without bond pending his next court appearance.

Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said no one from her office could comment because the case is pending.

Berman said the State Attorney's Office offered his client a plea agreement of three years in prison if he agreed to cooperate with authorities, the same deal he was offered before his first trial. Berman said O'Hara refused.

"What does he want to be a snitch for?" Berman said. "He's not criminally responsible."

O'Hara spent two years of a 25-year sentence in prison after a jury found him guilty of trafficking in hydrocone. He was arrested by Tampa International Airport police in 2004 after they found the Vicodin and a small amount of marijuana in his illegally parked bread truck.

O'Hara didn't contest the marijuana charge, which netted 67 days in jail. However, he swore he had a prescription for the pills. A doctor and a pharmacist backed him up at trial. But jurors weren't told that it is legal to possess the drug with a prescription.

In July, the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned O'Hara's conviction.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com