At a time when jury trials in Florida have been almost nonexistent because of the global pandemic, the Seventh Judicial Circuit, which includes Flagler, Putnam, Volusia and St. Johns counties, completed two criminal trials in a single day—one in Flagler, one in St. Johns—on Tuesday.
Both cases involved defendants speeding, eluding cops and putting other drivers at risk.
In Flagler, after a one-day trial, a jury handed down a verdict shortly after 11 a.m. when, after a short deliberation period, the panel of six found Thomas Kiruthi, 45, of Edison Lane in palm Coast, guilty of felony fleeing and eluding, a second-degree felony, and drunk driving, a misdemeanor.
The second-degree felony carries a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison, but Kiruthi, who appears to have a clean record prior to his arrest exactly a year and a day ago on Belle Terre Parkway, is unlikely to face anywhere near that steep a penalty, though a sheriff’s deputy reported estimating his driving speed at 90 mph in Belle Terre’s 45 mph zone.
When a deputy turned on emergency lights near Rymfire Drive, Kiruthi accelerated, almost striking a car driving south and causing deputies to abandon a high-speed pursuit. Following at a distance, deputies tracked the vehicle to 4 Edison lane, where Kiruthi lives. When Kiruthi got out of his vehicle and saw the cops, he allegedly tried to run into his house. A deputy caught him and pushed him to the ground, arresting him. (A resisting charge was dropped, as was a charge of driving without a license.)
Kiruthi failed the field-sobriety exercises and later tested 0.179 and 0.177 in a breathalizer test. The legal limit in Florida is 0.08 percent blood alcohol.
Kiruthi was prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Philip Bavington and defended by Assistant Public Defender Bill Bookhammer. The trial took place before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins. Kiruthi is to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 30.
In early afternoon the same day, a St. Johns County jury found Lascelles Forsythe guilty of three charges—fleeing and eluding, criminal mischief and threats against a law enforcement officer. Assistant State Attorneys Val Avanesov and Mark Lewis prosecuted the case in St. Johns County.
Court staff has gone to great lengths to make sure conditions are safe to try these cases, with Perkins developing a plan with the health department and other agencies to ensure that safety precautions are followed. The judge has been willing to hold relatively swift, uncomplicated trials, but not more involved homicide cases, at least three of which are awaiting their day in court.
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