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Sentence remains same in second beating trial

A man whose first conviction was overturned receives the same 15-year sentence, the maximum.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


DADE CITY -- For the second time, Gary Steven "Steve" Cannon on Wednesday was convicted by a jury, then got a lecture from the judge and the stiffest sentence allowed by law for beating a 70-year-old man and stealing his wallet.

Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson told Cannon he should consider himself fortunate. If the crime had been committed now, instead of in 1997, new laws would have allowed him to double the sentence.

And even the lecture, the conviction and the prison term may not be the end of Cannon's woes. A prosecutor has identified him as one of two suspects in the unsolved 1997 murder of 9-year-old Sharra Ferger.

Prosecutor Phil Van Allen didn't mention Sharra's case Wednesday, but he implored the jury of three men and three women to convict the 20-year-old Zephyrhills resident of beating Albert Graham outside the R & J Laundry in October 1997.

Van Allen said Cannon broke Graham's neck in two places and beat him severely before making off with $340.

Cannon was convicted of strong-arm robbery when the case first went to trial in 1999. The conviction was overturned when a panel of judges ruled that jurors had a right to know the felony records of the witnesses.

Appointed defense attorney Steve Herman told jurors Wednesday morning the witnesses included liars and felons who had motives for throwing suspicion off of themselves and onto Cannon.

"These people were not honest with you," Herman argued. "These people had an agenda."

Van Allen scoffed at the defense.

For the witnesses to have orchestrated a cover-up, he said, they would have needed the help of Pasco County detectives and the warden of the Pasco County Jail. He called Herman's argument "the height of absurdity."

Jurors took about two hours to reach a verdict.

When he was convicted two years ago, Cannon was sentenced by Swanson to 15 years in prison, three times the state recommendation.

On Wednesday, Swanson imposed the same sentence, citing the violent nature of the attack, the age of the victim and the fact that Cannon used the stolen money for drugs.

"To rob somebody so you can participate in the illicit, illegal use of drugs, I find that deplorable," the judge said.

Cannon spoke briefly, telling the judge he had enrolled in a drug treatment program in prison.

Although Van Allen never mentioned the investigation into Sharra's death, he did tell jurors Cannon is a violent man who beat Graham savagely.

"Whoever did this is capable of just about anything," he said. "A person who put a beating on an old man, breaking his back, is a person to be feared."

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