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State won't seek death for 2005 killing

TAMPA — The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office is no longer seeking the death penalty against murder suspect David Lee Onstott.

Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner wouldn't explain why Wednesday. But the decision follows an appeals court ruling this month that guaranteed the state won't be able to introduce Onstott's confession at trial.

"Mr. Onstott is pleased," said his attorney, Assistant Public Defender John Skye. "We look forward to the trial."

Onstott, 39, will face a jury in August. He is charged with first-degree murder and attempted sexual battery in connection with the April 2005 death of 13-year-old Sarah Lunde.

Prosecutors announced in May 2005 that they would seek the death penalty. They seemed to have solid evidence: Hillsborough sheriff's investigators said Onstott, who dated Lunde's mother, confessed to choking the girl and dumping her body in an abandoned fish farm pond near her Ruskin home.

But the case against the registered sex offender took a hit last year. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta threw out the confession, ruling that detectives ignored Onstott's clear and unequivocal request for an attorney in the days after they detained him.

Last month, the 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld that decision without comment.

The prosecution still has potentially incriminating statements Onstott made to his mother, a jail nurse and a detention deputy. The full extent of those statements has not been made public.

No physical or forensic evidence ties Onstott to the crime.

The State Attorney's Office filed paperwork Friday announcing its decision to forgo seeking the death penalty.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or

(813) 226-3337.

State won't seek death for 2005 killing 05/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 10:46pm]
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