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Woman asks to withdraw no-contest plea in beating death of Brooksville man

BROOKSVILLE — Facing 30 years in prison for the fatal beating and strangulation of a 68-year-old man, Treva Lynn Anderson had a change of heart.

Anderson no longer wants to settle for a no-contest plea. She would rather take her chances at trial.

During a court hearing this morning, Anderson will attempt to withdraw a plea of no contest to second-degree murder of Robert Rutherford of Brooksville. If her motion is denied by Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing, Anderson is scheduled to be sentenced Friday.

On May 28, Anderson, 24, pleaded no contest in the slaying of Rutherford. Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino, the county's chief homicide prosecutor, agreed to reduce her first-degree murder charge and cap her sentence at 30 years instead of a life term as part of the deal.

But in the motion to withdraw the plea filed July 6, Anderson's public defender Tricia Jenkins wrote that Anderson agreed to the offer because she was frightened by the prospect of a trial, had limited experience with the judicial system, and was pressured into taking a plea by her mother.

Anderson now believes "she has a very strong defense to the charge of" murder, according to the motion.

Jenkins wasn't available for comment Tuesday.

Magrino asked Rushing to deny the motion in a response that he filed Tuesday. He notes that both sides negotiated the plea and that Anderson signed off on the agreement.

"If the judge grants it, we go back to Square One and she's looking at murder in the first degree," Magrino said. "If he denies it, I guess we have sentencing on Friday."

Authorities found Rutherford beaten and strangled in his home on Feb. 15 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, according to a neighbor who said he refused to pass judgment on 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 Anderson made to authorities suggest a variety of motives 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.

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," Magrino said at the time.

Jenkins had indicated to the judge that she would ask for a lenient sentence given her client's rough upbringing.

Magrino said it's not all that unusual for a suspect to withdraw their plea before sentencing.

"I've had it happen in other cases in the past," he said. "I wouldn't say it's the norm but wouldn't say it's abnormal. It's somewhere in between."

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

Woman asks to withdraw no-contest plea in beating death of Brooksville man 07/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 7:54pm]
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