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PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Ex-football players to have separate murder trials

BRADENTON — Paralyzed teenager Ta Heem Blake, appearing in court in a hospital bed on wheels, and his teenage co-defendant on murder charges learned Friday they will have separate trials.

Attorneys said in court that former Palmetto High School football players Blake, 17, and Marquis Sanders, 19, made statements against each other to Bradenton police as detectives investigated a deadly home invasion that took the life of 55-year-old Maria Lerma.

Police reports say Feb. 1, Blake shot Lerma while in her home in the 900 block of 25th Street East, during a home invasion while Sanders acted as a lookout. During the attack, Lerma’s son opened fire on Blake, hitting him and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Blake and Sanders are charged with first-degree murder.

Assistant State Attorney Art Brown said the statements Blake and Sanders made concerning each other during the investigation into the shooting would not be admissible in one trial for both defendants because it might compel one or the other to take the stand to defend himself. At trial, a defendant has the choice of whether or not to testify on their own behalf.

“With the statements that were made, I don’t see any way we will not have two trials,” said Blake’s attorney, Rosemary Harlem-Wood.

Blake appeared for the first time in court since his shooting. He was wheeled into the hearing in a hospital bed on wheels and conferred with his attorney, agreeing to waive his right to a speedy trial. Blake’s legal guardian also attended the foster child’s hearing.

Circuit Judge Debra Riva set trials for Sanders and Blake for April 5, 2010, and they are expected to be scheduled on consecutive weeks, she said. Harlem-Wood asked for the April date as she said Blake is slated for medical procedures needed as a result of his paralysis, for which he is receiving 24-hour care at an undisclosed hospital. The hospital bills are being covered by Medicaid.

“I anticipate we will need to time for him to recover because I need him in tip-top shape when we go to trial,” Harlem-Wood said.

Both Blake and Sanders were attending Palmetto High School when the shooting occurred. Sanders played for the varsity football squad his senior year, and Blake played for both the junior varsity squad and made the varsity team before being suspended early in the 2008 season.

Blake and Sanders were the second and third football players within the Manatee County School District to be arrested on murder charges. In July 2008, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Lakewood Ranch football player Tim Brooks on murder and robbery charges in the death of 19-year-old William White. Brooks is set to go on trial on the charges in September.