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Hernando jury ready to hear about observation tower robbery

BROOKSVILLE — A jury is expected to begin hearing testimony today in the case of a Spring Hill man accused of robbing a young couple at gunpoint at the observation tower at Linda Pedersen Park in August.

Jaime Angel Marquez, 19, faces significant prison time if convicted on two counts of armed robbery, one count of grand theft and one count of violation of probation.

At the time of his arrest, he was serving a probationary sentence of house arrest for a May armed robbery.

Attorneys picked a jury panel Monday and plan to give opening statements this morning, barring a last-minute plea deal. The testimony will describe what happened the night of Aug. 31 at the tower, a popular hangout in Hernando Beach.

Arrest reports and court documents indicate Sonny Mylle, 19, and Brittany Birrell, 17, climbed the steps leading to the top deck about 10 p.m. Earlier, the couple had an argument and they sought a quiet place to talk.

About 10 minutes later, Birrell saw two men — later identified as Marquez and Jerae Crussell, 24 — in black hooded sweatshirts approaching the tower's steps. She grew nervous and wanted to leave, but they continued talking.

The four greeted each other at the top and then Birrell looked away. She then heard footsteps coming closer and the sound of a handgun cocking.

Marquez pointed the gun at Mylle and told him to empty his pockets, arrest reports and court documents said. All he had were his keys. The gunman ordered him to lie on the deck and Crussell told Birrell to hand over her jewelry and jacket.

"Then they left us," Birrell told authorities. "(They) said if we move or they hear any steps following them, they will come back and shoot us. We did not move."

The two men in the sweatshirts jumped in Mylle's 1992 BMW and drove away.

Mylle yelled to nearby fishermen who then tried to chase the car down Shoal Line Boulevard until it crashed at Wimberly Court. Marquez and Crussell took the victims' wallets and cell phones and fled in opposite directions, swimming through canals to get away.

Sheriff's deputies caught Marquez a short time later. He initially said he was robbed, but later confessed and incriminated three friends who gave them a ride to the park.

Those friends later told investigators that Marquez hatched the plot to make money to pay for his own apartment. He was trying to move out of his father's place but didn't have enough money, reports state.

Marquez's attorneys are expected to challenge authorities' account of events but the three others involved will testify for the prosecution. The defense is likely to question Crussell's motives in particular, after he took a plea deal Friday that gave him a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Hernando jury ready to hear about observation tower robbery 01/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 12, 2009 7:28pm]
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