NAPLES — Nine months after she was sentenced to three years in prison, award-winning Swamp Buggy racer Amy Chesser will be in Tampa today to watch her attorney argue that she was denied a fair trial.
Defense attorney Donald Day of Naples will tell three judges sitting on the 2nd District Court of Appeal that Collier Circuit Judge Elizabeth Krier barred evidence that would have helped 27-year-old Chesser show jurors she was acting in self-defense when she fought with Eliza Masco in 2007.
Day also contends jurors should have been allowed to hear that Masco repeatedly texted her ex-husband, Brian Langford, a key witness, to try to get him to change his testimony; that Masco wanted to bolster her attempt to claim $69,000 from the state victim fund; the judge didn’t allow jurors to hear about Masco’s past aggressive incidents; and that she was angry and aggressive shortly before the altercation, not calm as she’d testified.
“It was Ms. Masco’s intent to be the aggressor and not the innocent victim, as she claimed,” Day argued in Chesser’s 27-page appeal.
The appeal contends Chesser’s constitutional right to confront and cross-examine her accuser were violated.
In her 31-page reply brief, Assistant State Attorney General Donna Koch argues that the judge correctly excluded evidence and if there were any errors, they were harmless and wouldn’t have changed the verdict or sentence. Koch represents the state in the case, which was prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Mara Marzano, who works for the State Attorney's Office in Naples.
Both Day and Koch cite numerous cases from the state’s appeal courts and Florida Supreme Court to support their arguments.
Day declined comment until after the appellate court rules, which likely will take three months.
Chesser isn’t allowed to comment, but those who know her, her racing history and volunteer work for the Swamp Buggy Queen Pageant don’t want her sent to prison.
“I hope that doesn’t happen because she’s a good person,” said Linda Buchanan, a technician who checks Swamp Buggy engines before the races. “I think she’s done a lot of good work.”
Chesser’s appeal comes just three days after her father, Leonard, 70, retired from Swamp Buggy racing after 53 years in a sport that’s become nearly synonymous with the Chesser name.
Masco and her parents also couldn’t be reached for comment.
On May 20, a jury acquitted Chesser of second-degree aggravated battery, but convicted her of felony battery, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Branding the injuries severe, Krier sentenced the Bonita Springs woman to three years in prison, followed by two years of probation. Chesser was jailed immediately after the conviction, but due to the appeal, she was released on bond a day after sentencing.
Chesser testified Masco threatened her so she defended herself at about 10 p.m. on Aug. 15, 2007, when they fought outside Masco’s gated community, Key Royal Villas in North Naples. Chesser said drove there with Langford because Masco’s boyfriend, Robbie Daffin Jr., called and said he wanted to fight with Langford.
Masco, then 37, had repeatedly texted Langford, Chesser testified, contending Masco had called her derogatory names in text messages to Langford, threatened her, saying Chesser didn't know who she was (dealing) with."
The men fought and got black eyes, but didn’t press charges, while Daffin drove Masco to a hospital and she pressed charges. At trial, Chesser testified _ and Day argued _ that Masco injured herself when she charged at Chesser, pushed her, then slipped on wet grass and hit the bumper of Chesser’s truck before hitting the ground.
Masco, a mother of two, suffered a fractured right eye socket, a broken nose, a concussion, a detached retina, broken teeth, cuts, bruises and neurological damage.
Among evidence that Day contends Krier shouldn’t have barred: two past incidents showing Masco as a violent aggressor in other fights, that she had a past history of mental issues, and that she’d urged Langford, whom Chesser was dating, to change his testimony to benefit her.
“Ms. Masco claimed she was so traumatized she could not return to work for almost two years,” Day argued, noting that the cosmetologist was claiming to have lost $60,000 in wages and $9,000 in bonuses.
He pointed out Masco testified she’d participated in recreational activities during that time, including horseback riding and traveling.
When Krier barred him from cross-examining Masco about her claim for $69,000, Day contends, it was reversible error.
“That cross would have shown that the alleged victim has a financial interest in obtaining a conviction...,” the appeal says.
Day also argued Krier didn’t allow jurors to hear that Masco texted her ex-husband more than 100 times before trial, attempting to have him change his testimony. Day called that troubling and wanted to use that to tarnish Masco’s credibility.
When Krier prohibited him from asking Masco about her 19-year history of mental health issues and medications, it prevented jurors from deciding if her memory loss was caused by medications and mental illness or her injuries.
Day also contended jurors should have heard about a boyfriend who obtained a restraining order against Masco after she repeatedly texted she was “going to get him.”