The state attorney's office on Thursday accused the attorneys defending murder suspect John Barrett of deliberately stalling proceedings by going after the lead prosecutor in the case. The public defender's office has subpoenaed prosecutor Anthony Tatti for a deposition at 10 a.m. today. A judge upheld that order during a hearing Monday, and on Thursday the prosecution made a last-minute effort to head off Tatti's deposition.
Attorneys for Barrett, who is accused of killing four men in Floral City last year, say Tatti participated in the investigation and should answer questions about what he saw, heard and did.
Prosecutors say the defense is trying to make Tatti a witness, a move that could slow the case significantly and possibly force Tatti off the case.
"I have seen some outrageous stunts by the public defender to delay prosecution, but this one sinks to a new low," said Ric Ridgway, chief assistant to State Attorney Brad King. "It's harassment."
To counter, the state filed an emergency petition with the 5th District Court of Appeal. Prosecutors want the court to issue an order forcing County Judge Gary Graham to reverse his decision on the subpoena. The appellate court could issue its answer as early as today, Ridgway said.
Graham served as acting circuit judge Monday and handled the regular felony docket for Circuit Judge John Thurman, who was ill.
The public defender's office, meanwhile, said its tactics were perfectly reasonable.
"Normally, the public defender's office is not in the habit of trying its cases in the newspaper," said Assistant Public Defender Ed Bonnett, one of two lawyers handling Barrett's defense, when told of Ridgway's comments.
"However . . . it should be noted that, as we are required both professionally and ethically to do, we are taking Mr. Tatti's deposition, as we would any other material witness in a case," he said.
Bonnett would not say whether his office wanted Tatti to step down as prosecutor against Barrett. "All we're doing right now is taking a witness' deposition," he said.
Barrett's case has been intense and high-profile since the night of Aug. 3, when Jo Ann Sanders found four bodies in her Floral City home.
Authorities tracked Barrett to Ohio and arrested him on murder charges. Later, investigators alleged that Barrett was hired to kill Ms. Sanders but botched the job and murdered four men instead.
Tatti accompanied investigators as they reviewed the crime scene, interviewed key players and talked with Barrett and his common-law wife, Paula.
Prosecutors are careful not to put themselves in the position of being witnesses, said Ridgway, chief assistant to the state attorney. For example, they never interview a witness alone or search a house or car, he said.
Tatti never was in such a position, Ridgway said. Investigators _ whose depositions have been taken and who will be witnesses at trial _ accompanied him everywhere and heard and saw anything he heard or saw, he said.
The public defender's office, however, has a different view. Those lawyers say Tatti took an active role in the investigation, particularly in questioning John Barrett.
They say they need to ask Tatti about the context in which Barrett made his statements.
"Mr. Tatti was more than a casual observer. In fact, he participated in the questioning (of John Barrett), which is a little bit more than the state represented he did," Bonnett said.