Brooks murder trial set to begin

MANATEE — Former Lakewood Ranch quarterback Tim Brooks has long denied he shot a man to death during a robbery last year, but Monday the state will start trying to prove otherwise.

Brooks is scheduled to go on trial on first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm charges in the July 13, 2008, shooting death of 19-year-old William White Jr.

The trial is expected to take all week, beginning with jury selection Monday as prosecutor Assistant State Attorney Art Brown and Brooks’ attorney, Assistant Public Defender Peter Belmont, question a pool of more than 70 jurors.

Brooks, 19, is accused of shooting White during a robbery as White sat in the passenger seat of a car, in the 1600 block of 27th Avenue Drive East. Another man, Cody Rogers, also 19, is also charged with White’s killing as the state says he aided Brooks in the robbery.

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office reports say White was a passenger in the car of Jacob Cunnien, and the men went to 27th Avenue Drive East to buy marijuana.

On the way out of the neighborhood, witnesses said Cunnien stopped the vehicle and bought a Xanax pill from Brian Peterson, a man expected to testify in the trials of both Brooks and Rogers.

While the car was stopped, Cunnien said Rogers approached the driver’s side and pointed a gun at him, while Brooks pointed a gun at White from the passenger side of the car.

Cunnien told authorities he started to drive away when Brooks opened fire, killing White. Cunnien later picked Brooks and Rogers out of a photo lineup, and he is expected to testify at their trials. Brooks maintains that he was not even at the scene of the shooting, while Brown is expected to present a palm print found on Cunnien’s car that matched Brooks.

Brooks and Rogers will have separate trials, with Rogers scheduled for trial in February 2010. Circuit Judge Debra Riva will preside over both trials.

Attorneys for both sides have speculated that Peterson’s testimony might be a factor in the trials. Rogers’ attorney Derek Byrd even referred to Peterson as the state’s “star witness” in Rogers’ case. During pre-trial proceedings, Brown acknowledged that making contact with Peterson, a college student in Alabama, has been difficult, and Byrd questioned his credibility.

Byrd said Peterson helped Rogers dispose of a gun after the shooting, and also made a drug deal prior to White’s slaying, both of which were crimes. It gave him reason to cooperate with the state, Byrd argued.

“This is a motivated witness, and I think everything he said needs to be taken with suspicion,” Byrd told Riva during a hearing earlier this month.