A judge sentenced Jeremy Jennings on Thursday to 35 years in prison after jurors convicted him of lashing out at local authorities with one of their Tasers during a traffic stop last February.
A Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) deputy shot at and injured Jennings as a result of the Feb. 7, 2019, scuffle on the side of State Road 44, east of Inverness.
Circuit Judge Richard “Ric” Howard ordered the maximum punishment for Jennings’ charges of battering a law enforcement officer with a weapon, battering a law officer, resisting law enforcement with violence, depriving an officer of protection and failing to report as a sex offender.
Jennings was also given time served for providing a false ID, a misdemeanor.
A courtroom bailiff escorted Jennings, who’s wheelchair bound due to his gunshot wounds, back to a holding cell.
Assistant State Attorney Blake Shore asked Howard to sentence Jennings to 35 years for not just his attack on sheriff’s Deputy Warren Slusser Jr. and an undercover detective, whose identity is being withheld.
But also, the prosecutor added, because of his prior record as a criminal from Vermont.
Jennings was convicted in July 1995 of sexually battering a woman while wearing a welding mask and holding a knife to her throat, Shore said.
Shore said Jennings also eluded and bit at U.S. Marshals apprehending him later for not reporting as a sex offender.
Jennings' lawyer, Gregg Brennan, told Howard Jennings served his time for those crimes, and asked the judge to sentence his client to six years in prison, the lowest possible punishment.
Howard sided with prosecutors.
“I think you’d agree you’ve given up your right to live among a free society,” the judge told Jennings, who didn’t want to give a statement at his brief sentencing.
Jennings also decided not to testify at his trial, which began Wednesday and ended Thursday morning with a two-women, four-man jury deliberating over a verdict for almost two hours.
At the start of prosecutors’ case against Jennings on Wednesday, Slusser and two CCSO undercover narcotics detectives testified to stopping a silver Audi on S.R. 44, opposite of South Elmwood Drive.
Jennings was a passenger in the car. He had left a house near Inverness, where he lived from January to February 2019 without registering as a sex offender in Florida.
When Slusser and the detectives went to detain Jennings after he gave a false name and Social Security number, Jennings jumped back into the Audi.
“Why doesn’t he say he’s Jeremy Jennings?” Shore asked jurors Thursday in closing arguments. “Because he knows he’s a sex offender … and he didn’t want to go to jail.”
Slusser and one of the detectives tried to pull Jennings from the car, but were met with kicks.
Slusser went to stun Jennings with his Taser, which Jennings wrestled away and used against the detective, shocking him in the arm, chest and neck, according to testimony.
“There’s no doubt that’s an intentional act,” Shore told jurors. “There’s no doubt he’s committed a battery on a law enforcement officer … there’s no doubt he’s resisting them with violence.”
Diane Mueller, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime laboratory analyst, testified Thursday to finding Jennings’ DNA on the Taser’s front edge and trigger area. Slusser’s DNA was also on the front of the Taser, Mueller added.
Under Brennan’s cross-examination, Mueller testified a person’s DNA could transfer to an object through another person who interacted with them.
Brennan told jurors in his closing statements to consider that Jennings’ DNA ended up on Slusser’s Taser because Slusser grabbed Jennings’ bare legs before he unholstered his Taser.
Brennan also noted Jennings’ DNA was not found on the Taser’s grip.
Once Jennings exited the Audi, still clutching Slusser’s Taser, he went to attack the deputy, but the nearby detective tackled Jennings to the ground, according to testimony.
Slusser testified to firing five rounds from his agency-issued sidearm, striking Jennings in his arm, abdomen and leg.
While recovering in hospital, before he was charged in April, Jennings told a deputy guarding him he was sorry for what had happened.
Brennan asked jurors to look for inconsistencies in testimony from the involved sheriff’s deputy and detectives because they have a personal interest in Jennings’ fate.
“Nobody’s got more skin in the game,” he said. “Consider the interests they have in this case.”
Shore said Brennan’s claim the lawmen had something to gain from framing Jennings was beyond the realm of common sense.
Prosecutors, Brennan added, also didn’t show video footage of the incident from dashboard cameras or deputy-worn body cameras, which the sheriff’s office doesn’t have, or present civilian witnesses.
“They would have been state’s best evidence of what really happened,” he said.
“There are plenty of crimes that don’t occur on video,” Shore rebutted. “Then there’d be no way to prove a crime at all.”