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Star athlete contests charges

Issac Johnson's attorney entered a plea of denial Thursday to charges the Pasco High senior athlete violated his probation on a robbery conviction by skipping school and testing positive for marijuana use.

Assistant Public Defender John Carballo did not indicate whether he would contest those charges at trial or whether he hopes to reach a plea agreement with state prosecutors.

Carballo alternately huddled with his client and with Assistant State Attorneys Phil Van Allen and Jack Jordan on Thursday, but presented retired Circuit Judge Keith Bergstrom no result from those talks. Johnson's trial was scheduled for July 22.

Johnson, 19, faces a possible seven-year prison sentence that Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper suspended in February. Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb could impose that sentence if Johnson is convicted of violating probation.

Johnson has remained at Central Pasco Detention Center in lieu of $20,000 bail since he turned himself in to authorities June 5. Carballo will attempt today to convince Bergstrom, who is sitting in for Cobb this week, to reduce the bail.

In an interview June 7, Johnson acknowledged missing six days of school, but said he did so in his unsuccessful attempt to find a job. He also said the marijuana that showed up in a urine sample May 25 was the result of breathing it second-hand.

Last December, things were much different. Having put troubles with the law and in school behind him, Johnson was the quarterback of the state's top-ranked Class 3A football team.

Pasco went on to win the 3A state title, despite Johnson's arrest the night before the championship game on a long-outstanding warrant for violating his probation on the robbery charge.

Numerous people in the community spoke on Johnson's behalf to have him released the morning of the championship game, and did so again at his sentencing in February.

Florida A&M University president Frederick Humphries offered Johnson a general scholarship _ an offer that is still open, Humphries said last week.

After his most recent arrest, several former supporters said Johnson had disappointed them. Johnson railed against them, saying he hadn't let them down and that he never asked for their help.

His words and actions appear to have had an effect. Thursday, only one of those local supporters was in court.

Lorenzo Coffie, director of personnel for Pasco schools, has been steadfast in his support for Johnson, whom he used to counsel and has known since Johnson was 10.

Coffie watched Thursday as the young man, in handcuffs and leg chains, was led from the courtroom, back to a holding cell. And then he left.

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