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Man facing murder and robbery charges slaps his attorney, causing a scene in court

LARGO — Pandemonium broke out in the middle of a murder trial Thursday after an angry defendant slapped his attorney on the forehead.

The attack sparked a four-hour delay, a motion for a mistrial that later was withdrawn and a diagnosis of an ear infection for defendant Samuel Nesbitt, 24, who is on trial facing felony murder and robbery charges.

During closing arguments at the end of the day, attorney Geoff Cox asked jurors to put aside the "bad behavior" they witnessed and concentrate on the facts of the case.

"I'm not injured, and I have a hard head. I wanted to let you know that I don't take it personally," Cox said.

He still had a job to do, Cox said, and that was to explain why Nesbitt should not be found guilty of the many charges against him.

Prosecutors say Nesbitt was among four young men from Tampa who drove to Clearwater and St. Petersburg as part of a robbery wave in July 2005. One of the men, Andre Carnegie, 20, was shot and killed by a man he was trying to rob.

The trial had reached a key point Thursday morning when a co-defendant took the stand to testify against Nesbitt.

When Nesbitt leaned over to ask Cox an unrelated question, the attorney told Nesbitt he needed to listen to the witness testimony.

That's apparently what set Nesbitt off. He struck Cox with an open hand, leaving a red mark on his forehead. The slap was audible in the courtroom.

The two bailiffs in the courtroom, who are sheriff's deputies, took immediate action.

"Get down, get down!" Deputy Jason Morena shouted.

Nesbitt got flat on the floor on his stomach.

Half a dozen people who were watching the trial stood to get a better look at the commotion. Nesbitt's mother, Chinita Austin, said: "He's got problems, he's got problems," referring to depression and anxiety he has suffered.

"Back up, back up," Morena ordered.

The jury was led out. More sheriff's deputies arrived quickly, and one was assigned to stand guard beside Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Richard Luce.

Nesbitt was restrained within seconds.

Medical workers examined Nesbitt and thought for a time that he might be suffering from extremely low blood sugar. Cox asked for a mistrial because of that potential medical problem. But he withdrew the motion when Nesbitt was medically cleared and pronounced fit to return for his trial. The nurse noted he had an ear infection, but that it was not severe enough to stop the trial.

When the trial resumed, Nesbitt was handcuffed, and his cuffs were attached to a harness around his waist.

Jurors could not see the handcuffs and harness because they were positioned below the table where he and Cox sat side by side.

During closing arguments, Assistant State Attorneys Doneene Dresback and Thomas Koskinas explained how jurors should apply the law in what has been a complicated case.

They said Nesbitt actively participated in some of the robberies, which targeted random pedestrians in Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Because of that, they argued, he can be held responsible for Carnegie's death during one of the robberies, as well as any robberies he did not personally carry out.

Cox hammered away at inconsistencies among several witnesses who testified during the trial, and disputed that Nesbitt was an active participant in the crimes.

The case is expected to go to the jury this morning.

Man facing murder and robbery charges slaps his attorney, causing a scene in court 02/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 20, 2009 7:37am]
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