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As David Lee Onstott's trial begins, the girl's family testifies

TAMPA — On the opening day of the trial of David Lee Onstott, the star witness was a beer bottle.

Right from the start Wednesday, prosecutors told jurors there's no physical evidence in the April 2005 death of 13-year-old Sarah Lunde of Ruskin.

There are no fingerprints, no bloodstains, no DNA swabs, no eyewitness accounts. And jurors aren't allowed to hear of Onstott's alleged confession, which a judge threw out.

Instead, the case is largely circumstantial.

Key elements of Wednesday's testimony centered around wet pants and a Bud Light beer bottle that prosecutors say Onstott left at the scene of the crime.

A week after Lunde disappeared from her family's rented mobile home, her decomposed body was found weighted down by concrete blocks in a pond a half-mile away. Her bra was pushed up around her neck.

A witness testified Wednesday that Onstott's pants and shoes had been soaking wet the night she disappeared.

The opposing lawyers are describing two different scenarios for how Lunde died.

Prosecutors Jay Pruner and Sean Keefe say that Onstott, 40, who had occasionally slept with Lunde's mother, dropped by for a late-night "booty call" and found the girl home alone because her mother was out of town.

Onstott's attorney, Assistant Public Defender John Skye, is painting Lunde as a sexually active, rebellious teen who was prone to running away and walking the streets of Ruskin at night.

"Somebody did commit homicide on her, and it had nothing to do with David Onstott," he said.

• • •

Wednesday's key witness was Lunde's older brother Andrew Lunde, who was 17 when she was killed. He testified that:

Sarah came home from a church field trip on a Saturday night, April 9, 2005. Her mother wasn't there. Around midnight, Andrew and his friend, 15-year-old Darryl Daust, went to Taco Bell to get Sarah some food, but they ended up driving around with two girls they knew for several hours.

When the two boys got back to the Lunde home, Sarah was gone, the front door was wide open, and there was an empty beer bottle on a table by the door.

Andrew figured his sister had gone to a friend's house. He and Darryl went to sleep, only to be awakened by a knock on the door around 5 a.m.

It was Onstott, asking if Andrew's mother was there. His jeans were wet from the shins down, and his wet shoes made "squishing noises," Andrew said. "He stepped in the house and grabbed the beer bottle off the table," Andrew testified.

Three other witnesses said Onstott's pants had been dry earlier that night.

In court, Onstott's attorney spent much of Wednesday afternoon seeking to sow doubt in the jurors' minds regarding Andrew Lunde's credibility.

He interrogated Andrew about discrepancies in various statements he has given to detectives and in depositions. Andrew was grilled about the most minute details, such as whether the boys went inside Taco Bell or used the drive-through, and whether they ordered burritos.

Sarah Lunde's mother, Kelly May, also testified Wednesday.

She said she wasn't alarmed when she came home the day after Sarah disappeared, because she assumed her daughter was at a friend's house. It wasn't until the girl didn't show up at school that Monday that the family realized she was missing.

May said Onstott had remarked that her 13-year-old daughter had large breasts.

May also acknowledged that her daughter had occasionally run away. But May said that hadn't happened in the six months before Sarah disappeared.

Finally, Hillsborough County sheriff's detective Lisa Croissant, the first investigator to question Onstott, testified that he brought up the subject of the beer bottle.

She said Onstott made a point of saying that he had a beer with him when he was talking to Andrew Lunde at the family's door that night, and that he put it down and picked it back up.

If convicted, Onstott could get life in prison.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3435.

As David Lee Onstott's trial begins, the girl's family testifies 08/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 21, 2008 1:07pm]
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