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Man, 21, convicted in '07 attack on elderly woman in Zephyrhills

DADE CITY — Jathniel McMichael, accused in two brutal attacks on elderly women in Zephyrhills in the spring of 2007, was convicted of some but not all charges against him by a jury late Wednesday.

McMichael, 21, will still face life in prison when he is sentenced today in a case that terrorized the community with a large, tightly knit senior population.

The jury deliberated more than four hours Wednesday night and found McMichael guilty of home invasion robbery, kidnapping and grand theft motor vehicle. He was convicted of a lesser charge of felony battery — the state had charged him with aggravated battery on a person over 65 — and he was acquitted of sexual battery.

Prosecutors said that McMichael and his friend Bobby Lee Black III broke into a 68-year-old woman's mobile home on March 27, 2007. They punched her when she tried to call 911, then put her in her minivan and drove to her bank ATM. Along the way, Black raped her while McMichael drove, authorities said. He was charged as a "principal" to the rape, meaning because he was present and facilitated the attack, it was as if he committed the act himself.

Finally, prosecutors said the two took the woman to a watery quarry, threw her in and pushed her van in after her. She managed to climb out and get help.

Three weeks earlier, prosecutors said McMichael and Black broke into a 66-year-old woman's home on Gordon Street, held a knife to her throat, riffled through her belongings, and then took turns raping her. A third man, Andre Brathwaite, is accused of driving the car that night but not of participating in the rape.

McMichael was previously convicted in that earlier case. Black was tried and convicted last year in both cases and is serving life in prison.

Both victims testified this week, the fourth time they told their stories to a jury. They are not being identified because of the nature of the crime.

The first woman said one of her attackers kicked her in the face before he left. The second woman said they treated her like a ragdoll.

Jurors heard a taped interview between McMichael and two detectives at the Pasco County jail after he was arrested on marijuana possession charges. At first, McMichael denied involvement. But then, under high-pressure questioning, he began describing details of the crimes: how he and Black broke in, the fact that they used condoms.

McMichael took the stand Wednesday and said he was in the process of being released from jail when the detectives intercepted him in the booking area. When they took him to an interview room and began questioning him, he said he was scared and thought he had no choice but to talk.

"I was trying to tell them the truth, and they weren't listening to me," McMichael said.

Then, he said, he decided to tell them what he thought they wanted to hear so he could go home. He said he learned the details of the crime from talking to Black and Brathwaite.

Scott Davis, McMichael's attorney, told jurors they should disregard what McMichael said in the interview because it was given under duress.

"They're (the detectives) telling Mr. McMichael what happened and they're trying to coerce him into agreeing with it," Davis said.

But Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia challenged the level of detail McMichael knew, like how the woman's purse was tossed in an outside trash can and the color of the clothes the attackers wore.

"Is it plausible that he would give such extreme details in both of these cases?" Garcia asked. "Only a person that committed the crime is going to know those answers."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Man, 21, convicted in '07 attack on elderly woman in Zephyrhills 08/18/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 10:23pm]
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