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Trial of local musician Ralph Ameduri’s killer concludes

Samuel Sweet Jr. receives six guilty verdicts after more than two years of investigation

Photo: Ralph design by Jeff Sweat, photo by Chris McEniry, License: N/A

Ralph design by Jeff Sweat, photo by Chris McEniry

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That accountability would ultimately have to withstand the scrutiny of a jury and the power of a solid defense, especially in a capital murder case. The Lakeland Ledger, which has been heavily covering the case, illuminated the defense’s intentions as the trial began on Jan. 28: namely, that jurors should be suspicious of the claims of various 17-year-olds made under legal duress; that no one came forward until a year after the incident; that Sweet’s family would testify that he was at home the night of the alleged murder outside Jessie’s Lounge. Sweet entered a plea of not guilty via his defense attorney, Lee Cohen.

“Certainly, it’s rare that anybody will step right up and plead guilty to first-degree murder,” Hester said shortly before the guilty verdict was handed down by the jury on Jan. 30. “I guess they don’t think they have anything to lose. There’s no such thing as a perfect case – I’ve been in the business for 35 years; you don’t have perfect cases – but this case has a significant, overwhelming amount of evidence, and I’m convinced in my heart of hearts that Samuel Sweet is the murderer.”

Regardless, as the case played out, the testimony from the three teens – Eric Johnson, Caleb Crawley and Alex Monpremier, who are not charged in the incident – that State Attorney Hope Pattey was depending on took some divergent paths. On Jan. 29, one of the teens from the car, Johnson, now 20 years old and serving time in Polk County Jail for a different offense, testified that he didn’t remember the night at all anymore, according to the Ledger. Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen dismissed Johnson’s forgetfulness and allowed prosecutors to proceed with presenting his previously recorded testimony. The overlap between the three statements paints a fairly consistent picture that Sweet was indeed in the car, carrying a gun, exiting near Jessie’s, rejoining the group shortly thereafter, and disposing of the gun in the lake. Also, the video of the car was incontrovertible.

The prosecutor’s witnesses who were present at the incident brought some vagueness of their own, with one of those in attendance only identifying Sweet as 100 percent the perpetrator upon seeing him in court, the Ledger reported. (Original police reports had Sweet wearing a mask and white shorts, with very little else to physically describe him, other than the surveillance video of the car.)

“With the upcoming trial, it’s been extremely emotional,” Minotti said, about a week before the trial began. “As far as, you don’t know what the jury is going to say, and whether or not he spends the rest of his life in jail, they don’t find him guilty – there’s all these things that we don’t know right now.

Nothing is going to bring Ralphie back. We respect that, as hard as it is. I’ve said all along: Somebody has to be held responsible. We learn at an early age that there are always consequences for our actions, so having justice served, I’m praying that it will let me and my family get some peace.”

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