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Woman guilty in fatal beating

A jury deliberated for about 50 minutes Wednesday before finding Kathy Wekwert guilty of repeatedly kicking in the head a man who died days later of brain injuries.

Circuit Judge Michael Andrews planned to take at least a couple of hours longer to determine the Holiday woman's sentence for aggravated battery.

The judge adjourned court Wednesday evening in order to consider whether mitigating factors existed the night Wekwert and her boyfriend, Thomas Fox, were involved in an altercation with 47-year-old Roy Ethridge Jr. in front of Fox's Holiday Lake Estates home.

Wekwert, now 41, and Fox claimed self-defense. Fox testified Wednesday that he feared for their safety after Ethridge approached Wekwert in the dark, grabbed her arm and yelled curse words at her. But during the two-day trial, witnesses said that they heard only Wekwert screaming curse words and saw her kick Ethridge long after he lay still on the ground.

Prosecutors didn't charge Fox because they said he was justified in defending Wekwert. But the moment Wekwert walked away from the altercation and then returned to kick Ethridge some more, Assistant State Attorney Eric Rosario said, she committed a crime.

"You have a right to use like force," Rosario said. "That's not what was used here."

Defense attorney Curtis Crider argued Ethridge had a history of violence. Ethridge had brain damage from a 1978 motorcycle crash. Testimony this week showed that he had a tendency to curse and approach neighbors after getting lost, both tendencies the result of his crash.

Crider ticked off a list of incidents in which Ethridge was committed involuntarily under the Baker Act. Those incidents included threatening to kill his mother, slamming his father into a wall and overturning furniture, all evidence jurors didn't hear.

Andrews agreed Ethridge initiated the altercation with Wekwert, who also has several prior charges of committing battery, according to state records.

But, "the problem you've got is that when he was incapacitated, she continued on," the judge said. "She had a right to be mad. But she went too far."

Rosario requested a 10-year prison term followed by probation for Wekwert. The maximum sentence for aggravated battery is 15 years.

Andrews said he would watch the two-hour taped interview Wekwert gave to Pasco County Sheriff's detectives before her arrest _ a tape jurors didn't see _ before handing down a sentence at 10 a.m. today.

Colleen Jenkins covers courts in west Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6236. Her e-mail address is cjenkinssptimes.com.

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