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Man convicted of pistol-whipping two in Spring Hill park

BROOKSVILLE — After more than three hours of deliberation Thursday, a jury found 21-year-old Christian Rivera guilty of three felonies stemming from a 2009 pistol-whipping at a Spring Hill park.

The jury found Rivera guilty of aggravated assault with a firearm, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and attempted robbery with a firearm.

Rivera of Spring Hill faces 10 to 45 years in prison, assistant state attorney Rob Lewis said. Rivera's sentencing is scheduled for 2 p.m. on July 29.

"I'm very happy for the family, but there were no winners here," Lewis said after the verdict. "This case has been hard on all the parties involved."

The jury reduced the severity of one charge from aggravated assault with a firearm to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Although the lesser offense is the same type of felony, Lewis said, it does not carry the same 10-year minimum sentence as aggravated assault with a firearm.

Testimony from witnesses, including the victims, differed on whether Rivera struck one victim with a gun or something else.

Domenic Musicaro, 17, and Kevin Strickland, 31, both of Spring Hill, were at Amity Trails Park on Jan. 21, 2009. They had just wrapped up four hours of Amtgard — a fantasy role-playing combat game involving foam weapons — when they were hit with a shower of paintballs.

Strickland said he yelled obscenities in the direction of the paintballs, but took no further action. The two headed toward Strickland's truck and began packing up to leave.

Rivera jumped out of an SUV and approached the victims, brandishing a gun in Musicaro's face. Musicaro said he looked at Rivera and said, "Why can't we handle this maturely?"

Rivera brutally beat him three times on the face with the gun. Musicaro went blind in his right eye.

A blow also shattered part of Strickland's skull and destroyed his peripheral vision.

In testimony, two acquaintances in the car with Rivera said he demanded Musicaro "run his pockets." Strickland refused, and Musicaro said he had nothing Rivera could steal.

Rivera still faces a separate charge of aggravated battery with great bodily harm after brawling last year in the county jail. Fellow inmate Raymond Dawson suffered a broken nose and cheekbone in the fight.

Laura J. Nelson can be reached at lnelson@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

Man convicted of pistol-whipping two in Spring Hill park 06/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 11, 2010 1:52pm]

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