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Conflicting view offered at teen's murder trial

Joshua Allen Walther expected to see two teen-age buddies fight over a girl, his attorney said, but instead saw one of his friends shot dead.

Walther then tackled another witness and choked him to keep him quiet to save both their lives, said John D. Fernandez, Walther's attorney.

But state prosecutors said Tuesday that Walther was in on a plot to murder William R. Casey Jr., 17, who was killed in Oldsmar on April 10, 1989.

Prosecutors said Walther, 19, and Jason Beau Staples planned that night to kill two people: Casey and another friend, who was 15 at the time. But the 15-year-old survived the ordeal and testified against Staples at his murder trial.

The boy is scheduled this week to testify again, this time against Walther, said David Lichter, a state prosecutor. Walther faces charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Staples pleaded guilty in June 1990 to shooting Casey twice in the back in woods in Oldsmar. Staples also pleaded guilty to attempting to hire, while in jail, someone to kill the 15-year-old.

Lichter and Fernandez presented contrasting versions to the jury of what happened the night Casey was killed.

The basics of the story were the same. The four teen-agers went into the woods on the pretense of finding marijuana plants in the dark. Staples brought along a shotgun. Unknown to Casey, Staples was jealous of a friendship between Casey and a girl they both knew.

Staples shot Casey in the back, knocking Casey to the ground. He fired again and killed Casey.

The 15-year-old began to run, but was tackled and choked by Walther. The boy apparently was left for dead in the woods.

Staples and Walther made up a story for sheriff's deputies. They said they had been chased by someone in a pickup truck who was shooting at them and that they were worried about their two friends. Later that night, the 15-year-old told the deputies what happened.

The similarities in the attorneys' versions end here.

Lichter said the plan called for Staples to kill Casey and Walther to kill the other boy. Walther helped lure Casey out into the woods, Lichter said.

"Jason Beau Staples decided to shoot Billy Casey," Lichter told the jury in his opening argument. "Joshua Walther would also do away with (the other boy)."

Walther choked the 15-year-old until he was unconscious, Lichter said.

But Fernandez said the boy was knocked unconscious when Staples struck him in the head with the butt of the shotgun. Walther was trying to quiet the boy, he said.

"But for Joshua Walther's interference . . . (the boy would) have gotten his head blown off," Fernandez said. "Josh was afraid. Josh thought that he would be killed by Staples."

Walther went along with Staples and lied to deputies to protect himself, Fernandez said.

Besides a host of witness that will include medical experts, sheriff's deputies and the witness, Staples also is scheduled to testify at Walther's trial.

Lichter said Staples will be sentenced to spend life in jail.

_ MIKE JACKSON

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