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Mugging case against Gulf High ex-athlete goes to the jury

Former Gulf High football player Julian Ford, with attorney Susan Gardner, listens to testimony at trial Tuesday.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Former Gulf High football player Julian Ford, with attorney Susan Gardner, listens to testimony at trial Tuesday.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two men attacked Robert Amato outside Bourbon Street Nightclub the night of April 4, 2007. They pounded his face and broke his jaw. They stole a cross on a chain from around his neck.

These facts are not disputed.

One man is now facing trial in the attack: 18-year-old Julian Ford, a former football player for Gulf High School who never returned to the field following his arrest. He's charged with robbery and felony battery and is being tried as an adult, even though he was 17 when the attack occurred.

His attorney, Susan Gardner, told jurors Tuesday morning that Ford is the only suspect ever questioned in the case and that even Amato could only identify his attackers as a Hispanic man and a black man with dreadlocks.

Ford was shopping that night in a hip-hop clothing store in the same strip center as Bourbon Street. Amato, the club manager, walked in to drop of some fliers and browse the clothing racks. He noticed two men staring at him. Minutes later, back out in the parking lot, he was mugged.

Gardner pointed out that another man in the store at the time, in addition to Ford, had dreadlocks.

"This is a case of mistaken identity, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Gardner said.

But prosecutors played a recording for jurors Tuesday in which Ford is questioned by a detective at Gulf High School.

At first, he denied knowing anything about the attack. Then he changed his story, offering up details, even promising to get the necklace back.

Then, finally, he said this: "What if it wasn't me?"

No one else has been arrested in the case.

Ford was a running back and linebacker for Gulf High. Though not a surefire Division I prospect, he missed virtually any chance at playing his senior season and winning a college scholarship when school administrators decided not to let him suit up again following a mandatory suspension. Many had argued on his behalf, including Gulf coach Jay Fulmer.

Amato and Ford both took the witness stand Tuesday. The state and the defense rested.

Jurors will begin deliberating this morning.

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

Mugging case against Gulf High ex-athlete goes to the jury 10/14/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 16, 2008 11:44am]
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