Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fear defense leads to acquittal in fatal Hernando hit-and-run

BROOKSVILLE — Jason Blair took the witness stand Tuesday and explained why he fled after hitting a pedestrian one night in February 2008.

He knew he hit someone and he stopped, Blair said. But when he heard screaming and someone yelled, "I'm going to kill you," he took off.

"The reason that I left was I was in fear of my life," Blair said.

The man he struck, Anthony Morales, died hours later.

Two relatives, who were walking with him that night, disputed Blair's account. He didn't stop. Didn't even slow down. They don't remember making threats.

But the jury believed Blair. After two hours of deliberation, jurors found him not guilty of leaving the scene of an accident involving death, which carries a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Blair's rationale — a rare legal argument — is the only justifiable defense for leaving the scene of an accident under state law.

The acquittal surprised prosecutors and left Morales' relatives crying as they walked from the courtroom. "I'm disappointed, obviously," Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee said afterward. "I feel bad for the family who still didn't get justice or closure."

But the victim's sister, Yvonne Morales, said the verdict reflected influence and affluence more than legal arguments.

Her 35-year-old brother didn't have it; neither did Wendy or Matt Luppo, the relatives who testified.

Blair, 30, is the son of a former Florida Highway Patrol trooper who is now a regional manager for Farm Bureau Insurance.

The day Morales was hit on State Road 50, just after 1 a.m. on Feb. 18, he was walking to Wal-Mart to buy lunch with food stamps before work at a day labor agency.

Blair, a married father of four, was on his way home from a Hooters restaurant where he was a manager.

The prominence of his father, Gwynn Blair, in the Brooksville community forced the criminal traffic prosecutor and all the local felony judges to withdraw from the case. Eventually, a judge from two counties away was assigned.

Blair testified that he called his father — but not 911 — after hitting Morales and asked him to meet him at his house. A sheriff's deputy stopped him short and his father came to the scene of the arrest.

The prosecutor noted these details and suggested in his closing argument that the elder Blair gave his son the alibi. "You think (his father) knew what you needed to say to get out of a leaving-the-scene case?" Barbee said. "Is this a 'defense of necessity' or a defense of convenience?"

A "defense of necessity" is a six-pronged standard that allows someone to commit a crime if they reasonably perceive imminent danger. Unlike most cases, it forces the defense, not the prosecution, to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

"This gives you an escape route," defense attorney Ellis Faught Jr. told jurors.

He asked the six jurors to put themselves in his client's position when he made the decision to leave. In interviews, jurors acknowledged emotions played a role in the verdict.

"We like to think we would stop, but you never know until it happens," said Joyce Living­ston of Brooksville. "It's a split-second decision."

John Frank can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6114.

On the Web

For previous coverage, go to links.tampabay.com.

Fear defense leads to acquittal in fatal Hernando hit-and-run 02/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 7, 2009 10:17am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa police link two shootings, tell Seminole Heights residents to avoid walking alone

    Crime

    TAMPA — One was a 22-year-old African American man. The other was a 32-year-old white women.

  2. Pinellas Sheriff deputies T. Festa, left, and J. Short, righ,t arrest suspect Christopher Parsells, Pinellas Park, early Tuesday as part of a joint roundup of unlicensed contractors. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  3. Richard Spencer coming to town? What UF can learn from other schools

    College

    With Richard Spencer's controversial visit to the University of Florida quickly approaching, some UF and Gainesville police officers boarded a plane bound for Berkeley.

    Thousands of people, many of them college students, gather for a vigil on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 16 -- four days after a Unite the Right rally that led to clashes and the death of a woman. In advance of an appearance Thursday at the University of Florida by white nationalist Richard Spencer, the school is looking at what happened in Charlottesville and other venues where controversial speakers have visited. [Jason Lappa | The New York Times]
  4. Trigaux: On new Forbes 400 list of U.S. billionaires, 35 now call Florida their home

    Personal Finance

    The latest Forbes 400 richest people in America was unveiled Tuesday, with 35 billionaires on that list calling Florida home. That's actually down from 40 Florida billionaires listed last year when a full 10 percent listed declared they were Floridians by residence.

    Edward DeBartolo, Jr., shopping center developer and  former San Francisco 49ers Owner, posed with his bronze bust last year during the NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony in Canton, Ohio. DeBartolo remains the wealthiest person in Tampa Bay according to the Forbes 400 list released Tuesday. 
[Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images]
  5. Today he secures Bucs games; 30 years ago he played in them

    Bucs

    TAMPA —- Whenever the Bucs play a home game, Sankar Montoute is on hand to supervise more than 50 officers from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office on duty at Raymond James Stadium.

    Sankar Montoute, who oversees Homeland Security for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, was a replacement player for the Bucs during the 1987 strike. 
Montoute, who had a sack and interception in the same NFL game, oversees the 50-plus officers who work at Bucs games, most of whom have no idea he played. [Times files (1987)]