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Suspect in student's killing points finger at accomplice

Published Oct. 6, 2005

It was supposed to be a fight, Robert Barthmaier testified, the kind he got into often and forgot quickly.

Charged with first-degree murder, Barthmaier took the stand Thursday and tearfully admitted to a part in the brutal beating that left a 17-year-old student dead in a quiet south Tampa neighborhood last September.

Barthmaier admitted he got angry when a car cut him off early that morning, that he and his pal Joe Wagner vowed to fight the driver and that a third friend begged them to stop.

But it was Wagner who threw the first punch that downed the teenage driver, Barthmaier testified, and Wagner who kept on kicking even after Barthmaier stopped to urinate in the bushes.

"I'm awful ashamed of what I've done," said the 24-year-old Port Tampa man accused in the death of Turkish exchange student Mehmet Bahar. "And I know it was a bad thing."

Barthmaier's own life may be on the line, as prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

"I know I'll pay for what I've done," Barthmaier said. Wagner's trial is scheduled for June.

Earlier Thursday, jurors got a graphic look at Bahar's disfiguring injuries through autopsy photos _ including the zig-zag wound on his lip that was the likely result of a sneaker's kick. Bahar was alive when he took the 10 to 20 blows to his head and neck, according to testimony.

The medical examiner was asked how much force it took to cause such injuries.

"Similar to the kick-off at a football game," Marie Herrman said.

Barthmaier said he recalled drinking for hours with his pals at a downtown bar and heading home drunk. He remembered Bahar cutting him off on West Shore Boulevard and said that once they followed him to a Sunset Park home, Wagner hit the teen first in an attack he said didn't last long.

"Did he scream?" the prosecutor asked. "Yes," Barthmaier replied.

He admitted he started kicking Bahar in the head, hard, as Bahar lay on the ground. After he stopped, he said, Bahar was "snoring."

"I seen Joe go back and start kicking on him again," Barthmaier said. When Wagner wouldn't stop, Barthmaier said, he left.

"I turned around when I was about 40 or 50 feet down the road," he said. "I seen Joe in the (victim's) car."

Barthmaier testified that when he walked away, the young man was still fully clothed and lying next to his own car. Bahar was found nude from the waist down, his pants and underwear ripped from his body, which lay 39 feet away from his car.

"Did you ever have any intention of killing that man?" his attorney asked. "No," Barthmaier said.

Defense lawyer John Skye has said there would be no evidence to prove the death was a premeditated first-degree murder.

Barthmaier said he didn't know the man was severely injured or going to die.

"You kick a man in the head to the extent that your foot hurts, and you didn't know he was severely injured?" asked prosecutor Karen Cox.

Barthmaier also admitted he was no stranger to crime, having been convicted six times of various charges in three states.

Also Thursday, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robert Simms threw out the robbery charge against Barthmaier, saying the evidence on that count was insufficient.

Barthmaier's cross-examination is scheduled to continue this morning.