Prosecutor anticipates murder defense in Brooks case

BRADENTON — A prosecutor said in court Thursday that he expects former Lakewood Ranch High quarterback Tim Brooks will claim witnesses who testify against the former football standout in his murder trial implicated the wrong man.

A jury is expected to hear the state’s case against Brooks in a little more than a week, a judge said in court Thursday.

“Based on the list of witnesses I have received from the defense it appears they will be mounting an identity defense,” said Assistant State Attorney Art Brown.

Brooks, 19, is charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm in the July 13, 2008, shooting of William White Jr.

Brooks has maintained his innocence, claiming he was not at the scene of the shooting.

Prosecutors say Brooks and another man, Cody Rogers, confronted White and his friend Jacob Cunnien as they sat in a car in the 1600 block of 27th Avenue Drive East.

Brooks is accused of snatching a chain off White’s neck in the passenger seat, then opening fire as Cunnien tried to drive off. White was shot in the chest. Cunnien is expected to testify against Brooks, Brown said.

Early on Cunnien identified Brooks and Rogers to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives, but during an interview with Brooks after the shooting, detectives did not specifically name Cunnien as a witness who implicated him, Brown said.

But Brooks brought up Cunnien’s name when detectives asked why witnesses had put him at the scene, Brown said. “Because Jake never like us,” Brooks reportedly told detectives.

Brooks later told detectives he had heard on the street after the shooting that Cunnien had implicated him, as an explanation for bringing Cunnien up before detectives named him.

Assistant Public Defender Peter Belmont asked for the statement regarding Cunnien to be thrown out. Brown argued to Circuit Judge Debra Riva that the jury should get the chance to decide on Brooks’ explanation. Riva agreed.

Riva said Brooks’ murder trial is on track to begin Nov. 30, with a pool of around 70 potential jurors expected.

Attorneys for both sides expressed concern over prior media coverage of the case, which garnered headlines at the time of the shooting as Brooks was slated to be the starting quarterback for Lakewood Ranch High going into his senior year.

Riva ordered Brown and Belmont to agree on a statement to be read to jurors asking if they have prior knowledge of the case.

The statement is expected to reference Brooks’ past as a high school football player.