Two men accused of murdering 9-year-old Sharra Ferger appeared before Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson for the first time Friday, and one of them broke the customary silence to accuse a prosecutor of harboring a personal vendetta.
Gary Elishi Cochran, 35, and Gary Steven Cannon, 20, both appeared in Swanson's courtroom without lawyers.
Both had been assigned to the Public Defender's Office this week, but lawyers there have handed the case off to appointed private lawyers because public defenders handled the case in 1997 when Ferger's neighbor, Dale Morris, was wrongly accused and eventually freed.
Sharra's body was found in a field near her home in the Blanton community of east Pasco County, naked from the waist down, after she disappeared from her home in October 1997. She
had been raped and stabbed 46 times. At least two weapons, a knife and possibly a screwdriver, were used.
Cannon, a onetime friend to Sharra's family, is linked to the crime by a hair found on Sharra's body and the testimony of a jail inmate, authorities say. Cochran, Sharra's uncle, is connected to the crime by the statements of three other inmates and a bite mark on the girl's shoulder, according to court documents.
Friday, Swanson entered not guilty pleas on behalf of both men and ordered them to return for their first pretrial conference Aug. 10.
Cannon's case has been assigned to Clearwater lawyer Charles Lykes, while New Port Richey lawyer Sam Williams has been assigned to represent Cochran.
Both Cannon and Cochran entered the courtroom with other jail inmates, wearing blue jail-issue jumpsuits. The two were handcuffed and shackled around the ankles. The judge took their case first, then bailiffs hustled the two out of the courtroom.
Before he left, Cannon took the unusual step of addressing the judge to complain about prosecutor Phil Van Allen.
"I feel Mr. Phil Van Allen has a personal vendetta against me with the confrontations in the last few years we've had," Cannon said. "I'd like to do something about it."
"That's why you'll have a lawyer," the judge told him.
Outside the courtroom, Van Allen scoffed at Cannon's allegation. "My only aim in life is that justice is done," he said.
Cannon and Cochran are being held in the Pasco County jail at Land O'Lakes without bail.