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Murder trial to resume Monday

TAMPA — Attorneys presented two images of Joshua Rosa — one innocent, one sinister — in their last pitch Friday to the jury hearing his first-degree murder trial.

By night's end, jurors had given no indication which version they believed. After deliberating more than four hours, the panel requested a weekend recess, with instructions to return Monday morning to try again to reach a verdict.

Supporters of Rosa and 13-year-old Stephen Tomlinson, who died of strangulation on Dec. 8, 2005, in Carrollwood's Logan Gate Park, sat grimly when they learned that the wait for a verdict would drag on.

"This ain't good," whispered Stephen's father, Ron Tomlinson, as jurors left the courtroom at 7:45 p.m.

It had been a long week. Each day, family and friends of Rosa and Stephen packed the cavernous courtroom. They always sat on opposite sides, a delicate balance of emotion and decorum. Crew members for In Session, formerly known as Court TV News, captured every moment of the proceedings.

During his closing argument, defense attorney Brian Gonzalez said prosecutors put the wrong man on trial. Rosa was a full-time community college student, part-time employee at Sports Authority and youth ministry leader at Zion Pentecostal Church. He had been jogging that December evening, lost his keys and, as he searched for them, found the body of his young neighbor and acquaintance, Gonzalez said.

Rosa, then 19, tried to help Stephen, wiping his blood with a pair of white cotton gloves that he used for church activities, Gonzalez said.

A defense expert suggested that two people attacked Stephen, one strangling the teen from behind and another injuring his hip. The strangulation caused Stephen to bleed from the mouth and nose only after he died, said Dr. Ronald Wright, a private practitioner in Missouri.

That theory, Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said, made no sense.

Why? Because the defense had also argued that Rosa wiped blood from Stephen's face after finding him alive. The victim also had blood on one of his hands, indicating that he was already bleeding as he struggled with his assailant.

"It was not, unfortunately for Stephen Tomlinson, a quick death," Pruner said.

No one witnessed the killing or confessed to it, making the case against Rosa one of mostly circumstantial evidence.

But the prosecutor said Rosa did not find Stephen by coincidence. Only one person, Pruner said, had been seen looking for Stephen in the hours before his death. Only one person had carried a flashlight and walked toward the park five to 10 minutes behind Stephen. Only one person brought with him gloves and fingernail clippers, both of which tested positive for Stephen's DNA. Only one person's keys were found under the victim's body.

And only one person ran out of the woods saying that he did not know Stephen's identity — even though Rosa's mother testified that she had seen her son and Stephen hanging out on her porch just hours before.

"That one person," said Pruner, "is Joshua Rosa."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Murder trial to resume Monday 07/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2008 2:58pm]
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