BROOKSVILLE — A solemn Treva Lynn Anderson, 24, pleaded no contest Thursday to second-degree murder of a 68-year-old Brooksville man.
She didn't admit guilt, but she didn't deny culpability. And her terse "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" answers to Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing left unresolved the question at the heart of the Valentine's Day 2008 slaying of Robert Rutherford.
Authorities found Rutherford beaten and strangled in his home in the Julian Apartment complex on S Main Street. The medical examiner later determined "Bunk" or "Bunky,'' as he was known to his friends, died from repeated blunt trauma from a fire extinguisher to his head, and strangulation.
Hours after discovering his body, authorities arrested Anderson, who lives in Spring Hill. Rutherford frequently allowed young women, some of them drug addicts, into his home when times were tough. A neighbor said he refused to pass judgment on the what she described as "unsavory characters."
Anderson's drug habit was escalating at the time of her arrest, court documents show. Three months earlier, she pleaded no contest and received a probationary sentence for filing a false police report. She claimed she was robbed when in fact she used the money to buy drugs.
Statements made to authorities in the investigation of Rutherford's death suggest a variety of impartial explanations for the killing. She said he threatened to hurt her dog. She said he came after her with a knife. But the physical evidence said differently.
"The bottom line is that I don't believe the evidence is crystal clear for the reason for the murder," said Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino, the county's chief homicide prosecutor.
He expects she will try to answer the question at the July 17 sentencing hearing.
As part of the plea deal, Magrino reduced her first-degree murder charge and agreed to cap her sentence at 30 years.
Magrino said he will ask for all 30 years in prison. She faced a life sentence on the charges.
Rutherford's family didn't want to endure a trial laced with talk of drugs and prostitution. "They didn't want to see his reputation tarnished in any way, shape or form," the prosecutor said.
Even though, Magrino said, no evidence suggests the two had a sexual relationship or did drugs together.
Anderson's public defender, Tricia Jenkins, declined to comment after the hearing. But she indicated to the judge that she would ask for a lenient sentence given her client's rough upbringing.
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.