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He cut off a driver, so he died

He was only 17 years old and from a faraway country.

Prosecutors said he never stood a chance.

A Tampa jury Tuesday learned of brutal blows that Turkish exchange student Mehmet Bahar suffered as he was beaten to death in the early morning hours of Sept. 18.

The young man's crime: cutting off a car at a place where two lanes of traffic merged into one.

Robert John Barthmaier stands trial this week charged with first-degree murder in the death of Bahar, who had been studying English at an academy on the University of Tampa campus. Barthmaier's buddy, Joseph Wagner, will be tried separately at a yet-unscheduled date.

Both men face the death penalty if convicted.

In his opening statement Tuesday, prosecutor Nick Cox held back few details of the crime in usually peaceful Sunset Park.

"Mehmet Bahar was beaten and kicked to death _ a beating that was so severe that it disfigured his head," Cox told the jury. Jurors heard of the 10 to 20 blows he took, of his rifled car and of how his pants and underwear were ripped off his body.

But Barthmaier's attorney, John Skye, countered that there was no evidence that the murder was premeditated. He appeared to point the jury toward lesser crimes, such as second-degree murder or manslaughter.

When Barthmaier left the scene, Skye said, he didn't even know Bahar was dead.

"The evidence is going to show that what happened here should not have happened," Skye said. "But it is not going to show Mr. Barthmaier committed first-degree murder."

The night the men's paths crossed, Bahar had appeared briefly at a school banquet, then he and a newfound friend from Istanbul, Kerim Barbur, took off for tourist sites in Orlando, including the Hard Rock Cafe and Church Street. In the early morning hours, they headed back for Tampa. Bahar dropped off his friend and drove home.

Meanwhile, in downtown Tampa, Barthmaier, Wagner and another friend left HammerJax nightclub after a night of drinking. The paths of the two cars crossed at the place where West Shore Boulevard's two southbound lanes become one. There, Bahar's car forced the other car onto the curb.

That's when Barthmaier said, "I'm going to beat his ass. We're going to bang him up," Cox said.

Brien Bolduc, who also was in the car, urged his friends to "Leave it alone, drop it," Cox said. But when Bahar parked his car, Barthmaier and Wagner were at his door, and the beating began, Cox said.

A detective testified Tuesday that Bolduc later agreed to wear an electronic surveillance device, to help law enforcement. Jurors are expected to hear Barthmaier describe the beating on tape and to complain that he hurt his foot kicking Bahar.

Wearing a neat navy blazer, Barthmaier sat hunched and silent through Tuesday's testimony. The case is expected to last most of this week.

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