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Road rage witness changes his story

A man who once said two friends did not need shovels for defense now testifies they did.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2000


LARGO -- In the hours after his friends used shovels to severely injure two other men, Michael Saroukos told police the attack was unnecessary.

He told Tarpon Springs police that his friends, Theofilos Mamouzelos and Christopher Stamas, had "beat the hell" out of two men March 31 after an argument over a minor traffic dispute.

Police asked: Did his friends need shovels to defend themselves?

"Absolutely not," Saroukos said, explaining that the men who were attacked had not thrown any punches.

On Monday, Saroukos took the stand in the trial of his friends and told jurors a different story. He said the shovel attack was justified to defend him from the other men.

As for that interview last year with police, Saroukos admitted he lied.

"I told them," Saroukos said, "what I thought they wanted to hear."

Saroukos, 24, testified in the Tarpon Springs road rage case two days after Circuit Judge Brandt C. Downey III acquitted him of attempted second-degree murder charges, saying prosecutors hadn't proved that he participated in the attack on Jody Daniel, 31, and Luis Collado, 33.

Both men suffered fractured skulls and brain damage from the attack off Anclote Road in Tarpon Springs.

Mamouzelos, 20, and Stamas, 19, charged with attempted second-degree murder, face about 12 years in prison if convicted. Of the two defendants, only Mamouzelos took the stand to testify Monday.

Saroukos, meanwhile, quickly was called as a witness by his friends' defense attorneys after Downey threw out charges against him. But prosecutors, hoping to rebut his testimony, also were free to provide to jurors with portions of the statement he gave police hours after the incident.

It's the first time portions of the interview had been made public. Saroukos contradicted on the stand Monday much of what he told police that day.

In his testimony, Saroukos defended the actions of Mamouzelos and Stamas and told jurors his friends used shovels as a last resort to defend him after the two victims and two of Daniel's brothers ganged up on him.

At the time, he testified, Daniel's brother, Mike Daniel, had grabbed him by the front of his shirt and was screaming fighting words. Jody Daniel and Collado were also attacking him, he said.

And another Daniel brother, James "Dan" Daniel, was standing nearby with a drill in his hand, pretending it was a gun.

"I felt like they were going to kill me," Saroukos testified. "They were like wolves. They surrounded me . . . I was scared."

But Saroukos earlier had told police the men hadn't thrown any punches or attacked him.

After the shovel attack, Saroukos told police, he was so upset that he didn't want his friends to leave with him. He said that what Mamouzelos and Stamas did was wrong and uncalled for.

"We were just arguing," Saroukos told police, later saying his friends "went nuts."

But Saroukos testified Monday that he lied to police because he thought they would let him go if he told them what they wanted to hear.

Saroukos' testimony matched his friends' defense: that Daniel and Collado threatened and attacked him. His friends used shovels defensively to free him and get away, Saroukos said, and didn't beat the victims repeatedly or unnecessarily.

In the weeks before trial, Saroukos' lawyer, Jeff Brown, discussed the possibility of a plea deal with prosecutors.

Prosecutors failed in a bid to introduce testimony of those plea negotiations. Prosecutor Bob Lewis told Judge Downey that Saroukos was ready to testify against his two friends in exchange for a lenient plea.

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