BROOKSVILLE - Michael Anthony attended what was supposed to be his last pretrial conference before a trial scheduled to begin Monday.
But after a brief conference at Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt Jr.'s bench, Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto asked for the trial to be continued until an essential witness returns from military duty in Afghanistan.
Anthony, now 37, of Silver Springs, is accused of leading law enforcement on a high-speed chase down U.S. 41 on July 3, 2011, which left Deputy John Mecklenburg, 35, dead, and another deputy with a head wound.
Catto explained in open court that he tried to work around the witness being in Afghanistan, but that he was stationed in a location too remote for a reliable Skype or other type of electronic connection. Catto said that in the interest of time, he had considered not including the witness, but ultimately decided that "writing him out of the script" would "severely weaken" the State's case against Anthony. Merritt said he was "reluctant" to delay the trial but didn't have any choice with the witness unavailable to testify. A new pre-trial has been set for 9 a.m. Aug. 2.
Two days after the chase, Anthony was charged with the following felony offenses in Hernando County: attempted felony murder, aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude law enforcement with injuries or damage, attempted murder in the second degree, aggravated battery on law enforcement with a deadly weapon, leaving the scene of an accident with injuries, felony fleeing or attempting to elude law enforcement and reckless driving, first offense.
Anthony is being held at the Pasco County Jail on charges of murder in the first degree, a capital felony punishable by death if convicted.
Hernando Today previously reported that Anthony started fleeing from law enforcement after Brooksville Police Sgt. Edward Serrano spotted Anthony's gold Honda Civic traveling the wrong direction on a one-way street south of Jefferson Street.
Serrano's vehicle was equipped with a dashboard camera, which showed Anthony driving south on U.S. 41 in the northbound lanes and appearing to run into other cars, according to Brooksville Police Chief George Turner in 2011.
Hernando County Sheriff's Sgt. Brandon Ross started pursuing Anthony after he drove through the U.S. 41 and Wiscon intersection, weaving his car so much that Ross had to pull onto the sidewalk.
Mecklenburg placed spikes in the road near Big Tree Mobile Village, but Anthony drove around them and kept driving south.
Ross was able to force Anthony off of the road a short distance later, and deputies at the scene tried to get Anthony out of the car. Ross grabbed a knife to shatter the window, and was warned by Mecklenburg to get out of the way; Anthony accelerated forward and back onto the road.
Ross and Mecklenburg continued the pursuit in their respective vehicles, and Ross ended up fishtailing, then crashing near the Daylight Donuts parking lot. Ross received a forehead gash, according to court documents.
Mecklenburg continued pursing Anthony, and reported back via the radio that the suspect was exceeding speeds of 115 mph as he drove into Pasco County.
Seconds after that report, Mecklenburg stopped communicating. His severely damaged car was found, crumpled and twisted, with the engine block launched 20 feet after the impact.
Mecklenburg was airlifted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where he later died from his injuries. Mecklenburg is survived by his wife, Penny, and two children, ages 5 and 18 months at the time of the crash.
Anthony didn't stop driving until he got to Pinellas County, where he was apprehended after driving the wrong way on the Howard Frankland Bridge.
Court records show Anthony had recently left a drug rehabilitation facility.
In a hospital interview, Anthony told Hernando County Sheriff's Detective George Loydgren that he had been smoking crack cocaine during the high-speed chase, and had consumed $1,500 worth of crack cocaine in the previous two days. According to Loydgren, Anthony apologized to Serrano "for the officer." Anthony also said he wasn't sure why he didn't stop, but speculated he might have thought Ocala authorities were pursuing him.
State Sen. Mike Fasano and State Rep. Richard Corcoran, two lawmakers who represent Pasco County, were instrumental in pushing a bill to allow fleeing and eluding suspects to be charged with first- or second-degree murder. The bill, called the "Deputy John C. Mecklenburg Act," was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on March 23, 2012, and went into effect in October.
Tony Holt contributed to this report.