TAMPA — Prosecutors will have to take their first-degree murder case against David Lee Onstott to trial without his confession — and soon.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal has affirmed a Hillsborough judge's decision to throw out the self-incriminating statements Onstott made regarding the April 2005 death of 13-year-old Sarah Lunde after detectives ignored his requests for an attorney.
The appellate court did not write an opinion, leaving the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office with nothing further to appeal.
"It's done," said Tampa lawyer James Felman, who is not involved with the case.
The appeals court should transfer the case back to Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta this week. Once that happens, Onstott's trial must begin within 90 days unless the circuit judge grants a continuance.
"We're probably ready to go," Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said.
Neither Pruner nor Assistant Public Defender John Skye would comment Monday on the appellate decision. Neither side got all it petitioned for during oral arguments in March.
Skye failed to convince appellate judges to exclude potentially damaging statements that Onstott, 39, made to his mother, a jail nurse and a detention deputy after authorities found Lunde's partially clothed body in an abandoned fish farm pond near her Ruskin home.
With detectives secretly listening in, Onstott told his mother that he sometimes felt "possessed." Later, while on suicide watch, Onstott is said to have described to a detention deputy how he killed the girl.
Still, the lack of an outright confession hurts the state.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Onstott but have no physical or forensic evidence tying him to the crime.
Details of what Onstott, a convicted sex offender who dated Lunde's mother, told Hillsborough sheriff's detectives have not been released.
Ficarrotta ruled in March 2007 that detectives ignored Onstott's clear and unequivocal request for an attorney in the days after authorities detained him. The judge said the confession could not be used at trial.
The state immediately appealed the circuit court decision, arguing that Onstott had been properly interrogated.
Appeals judges didn't sound convinced during oral arguments. But on April 23, they affirmed the lower court's ruling without explanation.
Without an opinion, neither side has grounds to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
Colleen Jenkins can be reached
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