BROOKSVILLE - Just over a year after an armed robbery that left a victim beaten in the woods, six jurors and one alternate heard ongoing testimony Tuesday in the trial of James Michael Rhea, 25, of Brooksville.
Rhea is charged with principal to an armed robbery that took place the evening of June 11, 2012.
According to a Hernando County Sheriff's Office affidavit, Rhea picked up Travis Harscher - also charged as principal to an armed robbery - and the victim, Jonathan Ruane, in the parking lot of a local restaurant.
Ruane, who had driven down from Citrus County with his brother, Kevin, believed he was riding with Rhea and Harsher to purchase about 100 oxycodone pills for $1,300.
Kevin Ruane was told to stay behind, and Rhea drove Jonathan Ruane and Harscher to a secluded area near Majestic Oak Lane, south of Powell Road.
Ruane testified that once they reached the end of the driveway, he handed over the cash, understanding that the man they were supposed to buy the drugs from was married to a corrections officer, who didn't know her husband was involved with drugs.
Ruane said two unidentified men approached Rhea's Buick Lacrosse and started fighting with the victim. Ruane said he saw the barrel of an AR-15 come through the passenger window, at which point Harscher leaned forward and Ruane heard a man say, "You're being robbed ... let's go."
The struggle left Ruane with a broken nose and split eyebrow, the contents of his pockets emptied of his cash, credit cards, cellphone and driver's license.
Alone in the woods, Ruane later realized he had his work cellphone in a lower pocket of his cargo shorts and called 911.
Ruane said he never hid the fact he was going to buy drugs when he got robbed from the responding deputies.
"I was hanging around with the wrong people," Ruane testified Tuesday. "It's (oxycodone) a very nasty drug."
Harscher, now 28, was arrested the following evening on charges of robbery.
In December 2012, Harscher's open plea was accepted. In exchange for his plea of no contest, Harscher is waiting to be sentenced to 15 years in prison, according to court documents. Part of the agreement stipulates he cooperate in the case against Rhea.
In his detention center oranges, Harscher testified Tuesday that he arranged the drug deal for his friend, Ruane, in exchange for a pack of cigarettes, a few dollars and pills.
Rhea was arrested on June 26 of last year. Hernando County Sheriff's Detective Randy Williamson said when Rhea was arrested in his parents home, he said: "I didn't rob anybody. I only gave the dude a ride."
Jennifer Speigner, Rhea's ex-girlfriend and mother of their child, testified that they were separated when Rhea was arrested on the robbery charge. When they did reconcile, Speigner asked Rhea to come clean about why he was arrested.
Speigner told Assistant State Attorney Rob Lewis that Rhea knew Harscher from "doing drug deals together" and said that Rhea had set up the robbery.
"Travis just knew the kid with the pills," Speigner said. "James knew Travis, people buying the pills knew Travis."
During cross examination, defense attorney Lisa Yeager asked if the "nasty custody battle" had any influence in Speigner's decision to testify for the state.
"You're here to make sure Rhea goes to jail, or to prison for what you want," Yeager said, to keep him away from their daughter.
The trial is expected to continue Wednesday.