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First trial in robbery, rape of Zephyrhills women begins

DADE CITY — She thought she was dreaming.

In the dark bedroom of her mobile home, the woman awoke to the words, "Wake up, b----."

Then she realized someone was there. A man, straddling her in her bed, holding a knife to her throat, demanding money.

The woman, who is 68 now, recalled in court Tuesday how she was attacked in her home on Gordon Street in Zephyrhills by two men in the early morning hours of March 1, 2007. They took some personal belongings, her keys and rosary beads. They threatened her life and terrified her.

And before they left, they each raped her.

One man accused in the attack is on trial this week. Authorities say Bobby Lee Black III, 20, and a friend masterminded this assault and a similar one that took place about three weeks later in another Zephyrhills mobile home park. That victim was also an elderly woman living alone.

Neither victim can identify the attackers because they wore masks and hoods. But prosecutors say they have DNA evidence: a sample from the first victim that matches a sample from Black.

How conclusive is it?

Assistant State Attorney Stacey Sumner told jurors in her opening argument there's a one-in-330-trillion chance that the DNA found on the victim came from someone other than Black.

Jury selection took a day and a half, and in the end Black, who is African-American, was distraught that no African-Americans were chosen for his jury.

"It makes him feel as if he has no chance at justice in this case," Assistant Public Defender Tom Hanlon told Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa.

But Siracusa said he was less concerned with the race of the jurors than with their ability to be fair.

'Hit a lick'

The first witness to take the stand was Andre Brathwaite, who said he was at a party with Black and another friend, Jathniel McMichael, when the three decided to go for a drive.

At one point, Black told Brathwaite to pull over and wait in a church parking lot. When he and McMichael returned about 20 minutes later, Brathwaite testified, they said they'd "hit a lick."

What did that mean? Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia asked him.

"They robbed somebody," Brathwaite said.

Brathwaite was stopped in traffic a few weeks after the attack. Police officers found drugs in his car, along with the rape victim's camera, keys and nightgown. Her rosary beads were hanging from the rearview mirror.

Brathwaite later named Black and McMichael as the perpetrators to authorities. He is charged with home invasion robbery but no sex crimes.

Black, who was charged in this crime with sexual battery with a deadly weapon, battery on a person over 65 and robbery home invasion, faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted. McMichael's trial has been delayed.

Unforgettable eyes

The victim, who struggled on the stand Tuesday to describe the worst moments of that night two years ago, never got a good look at her attackers because their faces were covered.

But she could see their eyes.

"I never forgot those eyes," she said.

After the horror ended, the men walked out her front door. She heard them talking for a little while.

"When I couldn't hear them anymore," she said, "I crawled on my hands and knees to the bedroom, and I called 911."

First trial in robbery, rape of Zephyrhills women begins 04/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 9:41pm]
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