BROOKSVILLE — By all accounts, Tony Lamant Sanders has been an industrious cocaine dealer in Hernando County for the better part of the past 15 years. His lengthy criminal record is a testament to his resolve and misfortune in the local drug trade.
But accused by a pair of teenage girls of trapping them in a Brooksville home in July and sexually abusing one of them, Sanders was forced to defend his scandalous history to a six-person jury over the past two days.
It was something he was more than willing to do: Sanders told jurors that he merely went to the home to drop off some narcotics.
"I'm just selling drugs," Sanders told the court Wednesday. "That's all I do."
A short time later, jurors acquitted Sanders, 33, of two counts of felony kidnapping — two of the most serious charges — and convicted him on a felony count of attempted burglary and misdemeanor counts of battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing is set to sentence the Brooksville man at 11 a.m. Friday. Attorneys weren't sure how much time Sanders could face, but as a habitual offender, any recommended sentence could be doubled by the judge.
According to testimony and a number of court affidavits, the girls were hanging out at a home in the 21300 block of Campbell Drive on the night of July 23 when Sanders showed up.
Sanders said he was there to drop off some marijuana and Roxicodone with the 18-year-old's father. The girls testified that they weren't familiar with Sanders.
Once he was inside the home, Sanders locked the front door behind him and told the girls to not call anyone. They said Sanders told them, "If the police were called, things were going to get really bad."
Before long, Sanders offered them drugs and "continuously made sexually explicit advancements toward both of them," according to reports.
The 15-year-old testified that Sanders grabbed her by the waist, pulled her into his arms, grabbed her buttocks and cupped her genitals.
Sanders then sexually propositioned the teen, she said.
The girls were eventually able to call for help, the 18-year-old's parents rushed back to the home and Sanders fled.
Sanders, who was known to the girl's parents and others locally as "Crazy Tony," was later identified in a photo lineup.
The trial lasted little more than a day. After closing arguments Wednesday morning, the jury took about two hours to come back with a verdict.
As the jurors filed out of the courtroom, Sanders loudly told them, "God bless, y'all" and then pumped his fist in victory.
"Told y'all I was going to win," Sanders said, smiling.
Living up to his nickname, Sanders' unpredictable behavior had been the subject of much courthouse discussion over the past few days. It was something public defender Devon Sharkey used to bolster the case for his client's innocence.
"You could easily see how he might seem terrifying and intimidating to a pair of teenage girls," Sharkey said. "But that's just how he comes across. That's just who Tony is."
Prosecutor Lisa Herndon said she respected the jury's verdict but was disturbed by Sanders' behavior.
"He's sometimes difficult," she said. "And inappropriate."
Joel Anderson can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6120.