Another and possibly final pretrial court appearance was set for three teens accused of unlawfully shooting guns and firing a bullet that fatally struck a Homosassa woman.
At a Thursday morning hearing in juvenile court, respective attorneys for Zoey Ellan Andersen, 14, and 15-year-olds Jason Byron Simms and Joseph Shane Finn said they expect to wrap up their witness depositions and motions in time for trial dates early next year.
With that in mind, Circuit Court Judge Peter Brigham scheduled the teens’ next court date for Dec. 12.
“I’d like to set this for trial when we reconvene in December,” the judge said, adding he’s OK with accommodating defense teams so long as their young clients continue to stay out of trouble.
Prosecutors are charging the local teens with manslaughter and possessing firearms as minors, allegations connected to the Nov. 21, 2018, shooting death of Sandra Ryder outside her home on West Wayward Wind Loop.
It’s alleged the teens were shooting long guns on a nearby lot, and a fired round struck Ryder in the head as she was covering a generator with a tarp.
Nature Coast EMS pronounced Ryder dead at the scene. She was 58.
Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested the teens in early April after the State Attorney’s Office filed formal charges against them.
Defense lawyers told Brigham on Thursday three months should be enough time to depose the last of dozens of witnesses in the case later this month and in October.
“We have not dragged our feet,” said Bill Grant, Simms’ attorney. “The case is progressing very well.”
Grant said witnesses did say they heard other gunshots being fired around the large acreage of land that borders Ryder’s home, suggesting the bullet that struck Ryder came from elsewhere.
Grant said he asked Assistant State Attorney Blake Shore to give him reports of when shots were fired in that area up to six months prior to Ryder’s death.
“And other things that we believe clearly impact the case,” he said. “If I think more is needed, I’ll ask.”
Grant also asked prosecutors for the messages that witnesses saw sheriff’s office deputies text about the case on their cellphones while at the scene.
Shore told Grant no such messages exist.
“I’m suspect to think otherwise,” Grant replied.
Charles Vaughn, Andersen’s attorney, also has a motion pending to bring on an expert witness in engineering to provide an opinion on the case.
Brigham said his staff attorney is reviewing Vaughn’s motion, but expects to sign off on an order to allow the expert.
Shore told Brigham if he needs to contest the engineer’s findings, he’ll file for a motion hearing before a trial is set.
Brigham could sentence the teens to probation or incarceration depending on their cases' outcomes and what the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice recommends.
Prosecutors are not charging the teens parents or guardians as accessories to their children’s alleged crimes because they weren’t actively abetting them to commit the offense.