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Son's murder trial again postponed

(ran PW edition of Pasco Times)

Circuit Judge Ric A. Howard uttered words Thursday that have become frustratingly familiar: The first-degree murder trial of James Utsey will be postponed.

The trial was supposed to begin Monday in Brooksville, but Howard granted the state's motion for a continuance during what was supposed to be a pretrial conference Thursday.

Utsey, 33, is accused of shooting to death his mother, Barbara Utsey, 64, a well-known community activist, on Dec. 27, 2000, outside a DeRosa convenience store. The state plans to seek the death penalty if a jury convicts him.

Assistant State Attorney Don Scaglione explained to the court that Utsey's family had requested the change. One of Utsey's sisters recently had a baby, and the child is suffering from a lung infection.

Both of Utsey's sisters are scheduled to testify for the state during the guilt and penalty phases of the trial, Scaglione said.

Moving forward without them "was not worth the issues that it could create along the way," Scaglione said after the court hearing.

The trial has been postponed several times before. First, Utsey was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. Then, last August, Howard had to postpone the trial again when a mixup during Utsey's jail transfer left him without his psychotropic medications for four days.

Things seemed a go this time as recently as last week. But Monday, Scaglione learned of the medical problems of Utsey's new nephew. Then, he was informed that defense attorney Dan Lewan's father had died.

Lewan was attending his father's funeral Thursday and was not in court.

The judge tentatively scheduled the trial for March.

In other court news, an Ocala man charged with driving under the influence and DUI-manslaughter came one step closer Thursday to resolving his case.

Ralph M. Wagner, 51, pleaded no contest to the charges. His was an open plea, which gives Howard the discretion to determine a sentence without a jury trial.

According to police, Wagner drove a van that caused a three-car wreck on State Road 44 just west of Gospel Island Road on Dec. 14, 2002. The accident instantly killed the occupants of one car _ Donald Lee Bland and Samuel Gator Shetrone _ and injured a man in another car.

The alcohol content of Wagner's blood after the accident registered at 0.153 and 0.154. In Florida, 0.08 is the level at which a driver is considered impaired.

Wagner was charged with two counts of DUI-manslaughter: Each carries up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He also faces two DUI counts, each punishable by up to a year in jail.

Howard ordered a presentence investigation for the case. He will sentence Wagner on March 4 at 2:30 p.m.

_ Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 860-7303 or

James Utsey, 33, is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of his mother on Dec. 27, 2000, outside a DeRosa convenience store. The state will seek the death penalty in the case if he is convicted.