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Trial set to start Tuesday in beatings at Hernando County park

BROOKSVILLE — First, their fantasy role-playing game was interrupted by a hail of paintballs. Then Domenic Musicaro and Kevin Strickland heard gunfire in the distance.

That was enough to send them sprinting for their vehicle. But before they could drive away from Amity Trails Park in Spring Hill, a truck full of teenagers pulled up behind their pickup and started yelling at them.

Christian Rivera emerged from the truck and approached them with a gun, they told authorities.

Suddenly, their evening of fun at the park on Coronado Drive turned into something much more serious.

Rivera, a detective later said, "basically beat the hell out of them."

Tuesday morning, Rivera is scheduled to go to trial in Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing's courtroom in connection with the brutal beatings of Musicaro and Strickland on Jan. 21, 2009.

Rivera, 21, has been charged with two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated robbery with a firearm. As a result of the alleged assault, Musicaro went blind in his right eye, and Strickland also suffered a loss of vision and other facial injuries.

If convicted, Rivera could spend at least 10 years in prison. He could be sentenced to as many as 45 years.

Rivera is also facing a charge of aggravated battery with great bodily harm stemming from a fight with a fellow inmate in the county jail last year. The inmate, Raymond Dawson, suffered a broken nose and cheekbone in the brawl.

As of Friday afternoon, Assistant State Attorney Rob Lewis said, no plea deal had been offered to Rivera.

"This guy is not showing remorse," Lewis said.

According to the arrest report, Musicaro, then 17, and Strickland, 30, were part of a group of about a dozen people participating in the fantasy role-playing game Amtgard at Amity Trails Park about 6 p.m. Jan. 21, 2009. The game generally includes foam swords, plastic shields and occasionally costumes.

As the game came to a close, Musicaro and Strickland were preparing to leave when they were caught in a shower of paintballs. Unsure of where the shots were coming from, Strickland ran toward some nearby woods and yelled at whoever was firing them to stop.

Strickland, who was hit a couple of times, later told deputies he thought it was a group of younger kids goofing around.

Then Strickland and Musicaro heard gunshots, the report said. The two then hurried to load up their truck and get out of the park.

As they were putting away the equipment, a red sport utility vehicle full of teenagers pulled up behind them. They were looking for the guy who yelled at them, according to the reports.

Strickland "quickly realized that they weren't little kids," Detective James Boylan of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office said in a deposition taken last June.

Rivera allegedly pulled out a black handgun and struck both men in the face with the weapon, demanding money from them. He then left the scene in a vehicle with the five other teens, according to the report.

Musicaro and Strickland were both taken to Tampa General Hospital with severe injuries to the face. Both men suffered orbital fractures that required surgery; Musicaro suffered a chipped tooth and lost total vision in his right eye.

Boylan, the lead detective in the case, said that Rivera later admitted to the assault. "In his own words, he basically said that he … beat the hell out of both of them," Boylan said during the deposition.

"It was so senseless and so stupid," Lewis said. "But that's how bullies operate — they pick on easy marks."

In depositions, detectives said some of the teens who went to the park with Rivera admitted they brought along paintball guns, mostly to torment the people playing the role-playing game.

Rivera's attorney, public defender Michael Amico, declined to go into much detail about his possible defense during the trial. But in depositions, Amico asked Boylan a number of questions about the credibility of the witnesses — the other five teens in the SUV — and if Rivera actually used the handgun to pummel the victims.

"There will be questions as to his use of the gun, yes," Amico said last week.

Strickland and Musicaro, who was a student at Nature Coast Technical High School at the time of the alleged assault, are both expected to take the witness stand during the trial.

Reached at the family's home in Spring Hill, Musicaro's mother declined to comment about the case.

Asked how her son was doing, Antoinette Musicaro said, "The best he can."

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Trial set to start Tuesday in beatings at Hernando County park 06/05/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 5, 2010 2:45pm]
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