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Judge rejects appeal of arson convictions

Eugene and Ann Marie Fassi will not receive a new trial on their arson and burning to defraud case, Circuit Judge John Thurman ruled Monday. A jury found the couple guilty last month of intentionally burning their $160,000 Citrus Hills home to collect insurance money. The couple awaits sentencing.

Thurman rejected defense attorney Paul Hawkes' arguments that the couple's constitutional rights were violated last December when the court dismissed the first jury selected in the case after the state abruptly dropped its charges against the couple. A new jury was empaneled for the trial in January.

Hawkes also argued that the state failed to prove the Fassis lived at the Citrus Hills home, a primary condition of the charge; that the jury did not have the proper evidence to examine when deliberating; and that Thurman should have allowed Hawkes to offer a response to the state's closing argument.

Hawkes said his clients will appeal the jury's guilty verdicts.

In other court news Monday:

John Anthony Zukauskas was sentenced to four months' probation for confining rabbits in his home without food or water, court records show.

Inverness police officers arrested Zukauskas Nov. 21 after they discovered he was raising the animals in his house. Zukauskas apparently refused to sign a citation and ran when officers tried to arrest him, records show.

Zukauskas pleaded no contest to the animal charge, and prosecutors dropped a charge of resisting a law enforcement officer.

As part of his sentence, inspectors will periodically examine Zukauskas' animals.

Prosecutors have convened a grand jury to consider a first-degree murder case against Michael Owen Saffell, who is accused of killing Inverness widow Glenna Whipp.

The grand jury will convene soon, Assistant State Attorney Lisa Porter said. A motion filed in Circuit Court Monday said the panel would be brought March 7.

Saffell, 24, was arrested last week in Coloma, Mich., and charged with the slaying. He is in Citrus County Jail awaiting court proceedings.