SARASOTA - The brother of former Braden River High School football coach Josh Hunter this morning was sentenced to three months in jail after he again refused to testify in Hunter's DUI manslaughter trial.
James Hunter was riding in a pickup truck with his brother and two other men on March 21, 2009, when it crashed on an Interstate 75 on-ramp in south Sarasota County. One of the passengers, Doug Garrity, was killed in the wreck.
Prosecutors believe Josh Hunter was driving drunk at the time of the accident, and he has been charged with DUI manslaughter. He is standing trial this week.
Prosecutors have repeatedly tried to force James Hunter to testify against his brother, and last week he was jailed on a contempt charge.
This morning, James Hunter again refused to testify, so Circuit Judge Donna Berlin sentenced him to three months in jail, six months probation and 50 hours of community service. He will receive credit for time already served.
Berlin said she would re-consider the sentence if James Hunter agrees to testify. However, he indicated this morning that's not likely to happen.
Answering a question from his attorney Paul Hudson on why he is refusing to testify, Hunter said of his brother:
"I couldn't look at myself in the mirror thinking that something I may or may not have said put him in prison," James Hunter said.
If convicted of DUI manslaughter, Josh Hunter faces up to 15 years in prison.
Garrity's father John asked the judge to spare James Hunter any additional punishment.
"I ask the court not to make the Hunters suffer anymore," he said.
James Hunter's father, Jim, also testified on his son's behalf, and expressed his outrage over James' claims that prosecutors assured him he would not have to testify against his brother.
"You have put the wrong person in jail," Jim Hunter said, asserting that the prosecutor who made promises to his son should be the one behind bars.
Assistant State Attorney Art Jackman used Jim Hunter's words to point guilt at Josh Hunter, calling James Hunter's efforts to avoid testifying an "orchestrated" attempt to avoid justice in his brother trial.
"Mr. Hunter is right," Jackman said. "The wrong person is in jail. It should be Josh who is in jail."
Testimony in the trial has resumed this morning.