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Jury says Turkish student murdered

The letter came to America sealed with a father's grief.

Ahmet Bahar sent it from Turkey in September after his son, an exchange student, was beaten to death on a quiet Tampa street.

He wrote of the young man's hopes and his belief in the American way. Then he spoke of justice for Mehmet's assassins.

"Like him, I fully trust the American justice system," the father wrote.

It was as if the jury heard him Friday.

After less than two hours of deliberation, they found Robert John Barthmaier guilty as charged of the first-degree murder of 17-year-old Meh-met Bahar. The young man, who was studying English in Tampa, was repeatedly punched and stomped in the head in the early morning hours of Sept. 18 by two men he had never met.

"Mr. Barthmaier would like nothing more than for us to believe this was a fight," prosecutor Karen Cox told the jury. "This was an ambush . . . a savage attack that resulted in the total obliteration of a human life."

The 24-year-old Port Tampa man took the stand in his own defense this week. Barthmaier said he and his pals had been drinking heavily that night and were headed home. He admitted he chased Bahar after the young man's new car cut him off on West Shore Boulevard.

In tears, he said he and Joseph Wagner jumped out and descended on Bahar outside a Sunset Park home. Wagner downed Bahar with a single punch, Barthmaier said, and the two set to kicking the teenager in the head.

Prosecutors described his head as "being kicked back and forth like a tetherball." A medical examiner said he was struck with the force of a football kickoff.

Cox urged jurors not to be swayed by the defendant's emotions on the stand. "Those tears were for Robert Barthmaier, not for Mehmet Bahar," she said. Then she quoted Barthmaier's words to a friend after the attack: "It was a bad day. F--- it and forget it."

Barthmaier denied any part in ripping off Bahar's pants and underwear and claimed he never used his hands on the teenager _ despite a witness who testified she saw his knuckles bloodied soon after the attack. He claimed Wagner kept kicking Bahar after he had stopped.

Defense attorney John Skye said the incident, while terrible, was not premeditated first-degree murder and urged jurors to consider the case logically and unemotionally.

"I'm not being critical, but I think that the verdict was a result of the emotional aspects of the case (more) than anything else," Skye said Friday.

It was unclear whether the jury found Barthmaier guilty of premeditated first-degree murder or of felony first-degree murder. Felony murder is a death that occurs during the commission of a felony _ in this case, the burglary of Bahar's car.

Jurors were not permitted to discuss the case Friday because their job isn't over. Monday, they are expected to decide whether to recommend life in prison or death in the electric chair as Barthmaier's punishment.

They likely will hear details of his six previous felony convictions, including a 1992 case in which he bashed a man in the head with a baseball bat, knocking him out cold.

In that case, he pleaded no contest to an aggravated battery charge and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released early.

Wagner, 25, will face identical charges at a trial scheduled for June.

Barthmaier stared stonily ahead as the guilty verdicts for first-degree murder and car burglary were read Friday afternoon. His attorney patted him on the back and told him it would be okay.

A few minutes later, Barthmaier broke down weeping in his mother's arms.

Stewart Solomon, son of the Sunset Park family Bahar was staying with, said justice had been done. But he didn't comment on whether Barthmaier should be sentenced to death.

"Let the system work," he said. "It's worked so far."

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