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Mistrial declared after a punch

(ran PC edition of Pasco Times)

The defendant slugs a wall and may have broken bones. Confusion follows. The judge deems it best to try again some other time.

A Citrus County judge declared a mistrial Monday in a burglary case after the defendant injured his hand by punching a wall in his holding cell during a recess.

Bailiffs initially feared Jonathan Tuten, facing charges of burglary and grand theft, may have broken bones in his hand. So his defense attorney asked that he be taken to the Citrus County Detention Facility for an X-ray.

Faced with a delay of perhaps hours to what was supposed to be a one-day trial, Circuit Judge Barbara Gurrola declared a mistrial. Not knowing what else to do in response to the unlikely turn of events, prosecutors lodged no objections.

"I don't even know how to respond to that," said Assistant State Attorney Donald McCathran Jr.

The incident brought an abrupt, if temporary, end to what already had become an unusual trial.

Tuten, 20, is accused of breaking into the home of his 14-year-old girlfriend's mother, stealing guns and prying open a safe to grab nearly $4,000 on Dec. 13, 1999. The two allegedly then fled to Putnam County where they briefly lived in the woods, according to the State Attorney's Office.

Because guns are involved, Tuten faces a minimum of 10 years in prison under Florida's 10-20-Life law. The girlfriend is not charged because it was her home.

Gurrola wasn't supposed to hear the case. Normally the civil court judge, she took the case over from Circuit Judge Patricia Thomas to relieve a crowded trial docket, but only had a day to hear it because of her own schedule.

When the now 15-year-old girlfriend arrived at the courthouse, she became hysterical, crying that she didn't want to testify. Once on the stand, she protested being denied her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent (which doesn't apply because she is not charged) and not being shown her deposition before she took the stand.

The Citrus Times is withholding her name because she is a juvenile.

Gurrola called the recess shortly before noon to allow the girl to look over the deposition. The girl, in jailhouse orange and shackles because she is being held at a Largo juvenile detention center on unrelated charges, instead spent most of the break crying and being consoled by a jail worker.

Tuten emerged from a holding cell dabbing his wet eyes with a tissue. Bailiffs said he injured his hand punching a wall after his girlfriend's testimony.

Gurrola, seemingly to herself, said, "This was Judge Thomas' case." Then, turning to Tuten, she said, "I say that with a smile."

The attorneys and judge debated the options. At one point, Gurrola reproached Assistant Public Defender Dan Lewan for interrupting her while she was speaking. Then she asked him if he wanted to ask for a mistrial. After consulting his client, that's what he did.

The case will be returned to the docket and may be given back to Thomas for trial at an undetermined date.

Bailiffs did not know the results of Tuten's X-ray later Monday afternoon.