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David Lee Onstott on trial today for 2005 murder of Sarah Lunde

Sarah Michelle Lunde, 13, came home early from a church outing on April 9, 2005. Just before midnight, her older brother went to Taco Bell to get her some food. He says he came back four hours later. The front door was open. Sarah was gone.

On April 16, after days of searching, a grim discovery was made. Half a mile down the road from the Lunde home in Ruskin, a search dog found a decomposed body in water on an abandoned fish farm. Sarah.

The man accused of killing Sarah, a registered sex offender who had dated her mother, is set to go to trial today in Tampa, more than three years after her murder. David Lee Onstott, 40, won't face the death penalty. Prosecutors took it off the table after a series of hits to their case, most notably a judge's decision to throw out Onstott's confession.

What's left is a first-degree murder and attempted sexual battery case built largely on circumstantial evidence. If convicted, Onstott will go to prison for life. Here's a look at what to expect during the trial:

The prosecution

Jay Pruner, a no-frills, methodical prosecutor for the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, is leading the case against Onstott. Pruner has won on circumstantial evidence before.

Prosecutors do have a series of potentially incriminating statements and behavior:

• Onstott showed up at the Lunde house between 4 and 5 a.m. April 10 and asked for Sarah's mother, according to Andrew Lunde, Sarah's then 17-year-old brother. After Andrew said she wasn't there, Onstott took one step inside, picked up a beer bottle and left. Andrew said the bottle wasn't there when he left to get food.

• In a recorded jail call to his ex-wife, Onstott said, "You know I've broken every commandment now. Every single one."

• A cell mate of Onstott's — who was jailed before Sarah's body was found — said Onstott blanched when the missing girl's name came up.

The prosecution's success could turn on self-incriminating statements Onstott made to a detention deputy.

The defense

This trial is likely to be defense attorney John Skye's last. The longtime public defender retired a year ago but vowed to complete Onstott's case. In addition to the lack of physical and forensic evidence, the defense will benefit from all the things prosecutors aren't allowed to say.

Skye scored a major victory last year when Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta threw out Onstott's main confession on grounds that detectives who interrogated him ignored his requests for an attorney. An appeals court upheld that ruling. Ficarrotta also excluded other incriminating statements Onstott made to his mother and his cell mate. Prosecutors also can't tell jurors about Onstott's 1995 sexual battery conviction.

David Lee Onstott on trial today for 2005 murder of Sarah Lunde 08/11/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 16, 2008 2:41pm]
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