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High school athlete to be tried as adult

A star football player at Hernando High School charged in the sexualbattery of a 13-year-old girl will be tried as an adult.

After originally being charged as a juvenile, Freeman Bennett, 17, was arrested this week on charges of sexual battery of a child under age 16. The football running back will turn 18 on Feb. 22.

Bennett was first arrested Jan. 29 along with two other Hernando High football players, Johnnie Hudson and Mike Frazier, both 18.

All three are accused of having sex with the girl in the back seat of a car near the girl's Spring Hill home. Court records state that the incident occurred about 10 p.m. Jan. 28. The victim and the three youths had been at a party and had been drinking, court records show.

All three were arrested the next day at the school, where they were enrolled as juniors.

Hudson and Frazier were suspended from school after their arrest.

Bennett has been held at a juvenile detention facility in Ocala since his arrest. He was jailed Wednesday, then released later in the afternoon.

Hernando High principal Elaine Sullivan said Bennett had not returned to school. If he does return, he will meet with school officials to determine whether he should be suspended, Sullivan said.

John Carnahan, the assistant state attorney who signed the arrest warrant, said he could not comment on why the decision was made to try Bennett as an adult. He did say that the decision was made by him and others in the state attorney's office, including Jim Dysart, the assistant state attorney who will be prosecuting the case.

Carnahan said he could not talk about the investigation into the case because the inquiry was conducted while Bennett is a juvenile and, as such, it is confidential.

He did say that the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services routinely investigates juvenile cases and makes a recommendation about whether adult charges should be filed.

Bennett has been a track and football star at Hernando High. He led the team in rushing with 756 yards on 104 carries and was named the team's most valuable back this season. He was a first-team all-North Suncoast honoree in football.

At last year's Class 3A, District 7 meet, he finished third in the 100 meters with a time of 11.28 seconds.

Hernando High's head football coach, Mike Imhoff, said Bennett ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. "He has speed to burn," Imhoff said.

He said Bennett has received recruiting letters from several colleges, including Florida State University, the University of Georgia and the University of Florida.