The Independent Florida Alligator, October 11, 1999, page 1

Watermelon Pond co-defendant's testimony causes mistrial request

By Zophia Rendon and Trey Csar, Alligator Writers


After almost three hours of testimony by co-defendant Anthony Jones, who is serving time for being an accessory to the kidnapping of Ralph Vasquez, one question by State Attorney Greg McMahon sent the courtroom into a whirl of objections and calls for a mistrial by defendant Lee Jupiter's lawyers.

At McMahon's request, Jones read from a statement he made after fleeing to Vienna, Austria in which he called Lee a murderer who had connections to the Mafia. He did not have a chance to finish the sentence before defense attorney James Berry jumped up to object and ask for a mistrial, which sent a buzz of excited conversation through the courtroom.

Jupiter, on trial for Vasquez's murder, looked at Jones with an open mouth, his face full of surprise and disbelief. It was the first time that day Jupiter reacted to any of Jones' statements, which included testimony about Jupiter being "coked up" on cocaine and other drugs, acting nervous and edgy and hitting Vasquez with a bat and a handgun.

An angry U.S. Circuit Judge Stan Morris told the jury to disregard Jones' statement and sent them out of the courtroom so he could discuss the state's actions.

The judge said Jones' talk of Jupiter as a murderer with Mafia connections was "rank hearsay," something Jones could not know because he was not at Watermelon Pond the night of the murder.

Prosecutors hung their heads as the judge lectured the court, saying he would not declare a mistrial although he doubted an appellate court would uphold his decision.

The rule of completeness allows portions of a document to be read if it pertains to earlier statements read form the same document, Morris said. Earlier, Berry asked Jones to read paragraphs from the document, which contradicted things he said in the courtroom under oath.

Through questioning, Berry tried to show that Jones wanted to make a deal for a lesser sentence with the state early in his case and also had the opportunity to read other co-defendants' statements before making his own.

Jones' testimony came in the third week of the trial, in which prosecutors say Lee Jupiter killed Vasquez in December 1997 and left his bullet-ridden body on the shore of Watermelon Pond. Nine of the 11 co-defendants have entered pleas in the case.

Jones also testified that Jupiter brought a shotgun, brass knuckles and a handgun to the apartment where Vasquez was taken from on the night of the kidnapping.

Jones said he and other co-defendants planned to surprise Vasquez that night at Michelle White's apartment to get the money that he owed to Scott Chretien for a drug deal. When Vasquez entered the apartment, Jones grabbed him and they struggled.

Jupiter began hitting Vasquez repeatedly with an aluminum bat, sending spurts of blood everywhere, Jones said. Ryan Reynolds then beat Vasquez on the head with the brass knuckles before Jupiter accidentally broke Reynolds' hand with the bat. It was soon after this that Jones and Reynolds left the apartment because they no longer wanted to be involved in the incident, Jones said.

When Jones tried to stop Jupiter from hitting the already beaten Vasquez with the handgun, Jones said Jupiter pointed the gun at him.

Jones, who is serving a 65-month sentence, said he agreed to help Scott Chretien get the money that Vasquez owed him because it was "a code of honor, something stupid" that drug dealers do to help each other when they get ripped off.

Jones said they just wanted to scare Vasquez and that he never thought it would escalate to violence. When Jones realized they had gone too far, he tried to stop it and get the others involved to take Vasquez to a hospital, he said.

Musaki Saka, the boyfriend of co-defendant Michelle White, also testified later in the day about a meeting at an Ocala-area hotel with Jupiter and others involved in the case.

"(We went to Ocala) to have a meeting with Lee (Jupiter) to discuss a way to escape any trouble we were in at this time," Saka said. "We tried to come up with a plan."

Also on Friday a juror was dismissed because of a potential connection to a witness. An alternate juror will take his place.

Testimony in the trial will resume today and is expected to last through the week.