BROOKSVILLE — At face value, the case against Jason Blair in the hit-and-run death of Anthony Morales appears straightforward.
"He hit him. He knew he hit him. And he left. … It's not a complicated case," Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee told jurors Monday in the first day of testimony in the trial.
But there's more to it, says the defense.
Blair's defense attorney asserts that he would have stopped but was scared off by hostile people at the scene.
"It was fight or flight," he told jurors. "It's human nature."
Defense attorney Ellis Faught Jr., started Monday by acknowledging that his client broke the law.
But he argued Blair, 30, was legally justified in driving away from the accident on Cortez Boulevard, where he hit the 35-year-old Morales, who was walking to work with his fiancee and two relatives in the early morning hours of Feb. 18 last year.
This rare strategy is known as a "defense of necessity."
It's different from most cases because it forces the defense to prove elements suggesting the crime was committed because Blair sensed imminent danger.
The defense's case will rest largely on Blair's testimony, which is expected this morning.
Faught, in his opening statement, said his client stopped at the scene, stepped out of the car and heard screaming and threats. So he fled in fear.
This contradicts the testimony jurors heard from Morales' relatives.
The prosecution's first witness, Morales' sister, Wendy Luppo, took the stand nervously. Before the hearing, she said she watched Law & Order and other criminal justice television shows to prepare for her first courtroom experience.
Her testimony hinged on this questioning:
Prosecutor: "Did the car that hit your brother stop?"
"(Did) he even slow down?"
Later, it continued. Prosecutor: "Did any of the three of you chase after the car?"
"Did you scream anything at the car?"
A number of other elements in the case didn't get to jurors' ears.
They didn't hear about Blair's driving record, rife with infractions, two suspensions and a revocation from a driving under the influence charge. (It's rare that criminal or driving histories are aired at trial.)
Jurors didn't hear how prescription drugs and marijuana were found in Blair's system six hours after the accident. (It wasn't allowed because experts couldn't determine if it was in his system at the time of the accident.)
They didn't hear how Morales was cited for walking on the wrong side of the roadway. (It was deemed irrelevant.)
And they didn't hear that Morales' injuries were not initially life-threatening. (He died instantly when his brain stem separated as hospital staffers were moving him during an examination.)
A Hillsborough County medical examiner hinted at this in his testimony, but the judge forbade the defense from raising the specter of medical malpractice.
Using an analogy, the doctor explained that if Morales had not been hit by the car, he never would have been at the hospital. So the cause of death, he said, was the car accident.
John Frank can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6114.