SARASOTA — As former Braden River High football coach Josh Hunter awaits in jail to be sentenced for DUI manslaughter, his attorney has asked for a new trial before a judge decides his fate.
Hunter’s attorney, Brett McIntosh, has filed a motion for a new trial, focusing on Circuit Judge Donna Berlin’s ruling about statements made by Hunter’s friend, Matt Braselton, a passenger in Hunter’s pickup truck on May 22, 2009, when Hunter crashed his truck near Venice.
On May 17, a jury found Hunter guilty of DUI manslaughter for driving his truck off the County Road 681 on-ramp to Interstate 75 and causing it to overturn, ejecting his best friend and assistant coach Doug Garrity from the vehicle, killing him. Blood tests later showed Hunter had a blood-alcohol-content level of .21, nearly three times the legal limit in Florida of .08.
Prosecutors also placed a Florida Highway Patrol trooper on the stand who testified that Braselton told him at the scene of the crash that Hunter had been driving the truck.
Prosecutors were forced to elicit that testimony as proof that Hunter had been driving because Braselton maintained after the night of the crash that he too had been drunk and remembered nothing from that night. He also testified as much during Hunter’s trial.
That, coupled with Hunter’s brother, James, also a passenger in the truck, refusing to testify at all that his brother had been driving, forced prosecutors to rely on the trooper’s testimony. James Hunter is still serving the remainder of a three-month sentence for contempt of court for refusing to testify.
Before the trial, McIntosh objected to allowing the trooper’s testimony about Braselton’s statement, calling it hearsay. He is now pinning an appeal in the case on that same argument.
In a brief filed last week, McIntosh stated that Berlin “erroneously” allowed the trooper’s testimony on Braselton’s statement.
McIntosh wrote that even if the statement to the trooper was admissible, it should not have been relied upon by a jury because of Braselton’s intoxicated condition on the night of the crash. “His ability to perceive and communicate events was extremely impaired,” McIntosh wrote.
Berlin will most likely rule on the motion before sentencing. The motion is a routine filing for an impending appeal, according to McIntosh. “I filed the motion to preserve the record for an appeal,” he said.
Hunter had been set for sentencing June 11, but a scheduling conflict moved that hearing to June 25. He faces between four and 15 years in prison, and scores out on state sentencing guidelines at about 10 years.
McIntosh said Hunter had the opportunity to seek a bond for his release from jail prior to sentencing, but opted to remain behind bars.