As reported in the Tampa Bay Times, Justin Ash of Zepherhills pleaded guilty last week in Pasco County to second-degree murder with a firearm, avoiding life in prison. The plea was part of an agreement negotiated by Ash’s defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand and prosecutors. Ash had been charged with murder in the first degree for a 2011 homicide. He faced life in prison without eligibility for parole if he had been convicted at trial on the first degree murder charge.
Instead, Ash agreed to a maximum 35-year prison sentence, with a mandatory minimum of 25 years, for the second-degree murder conviction. He will receive credit for the year he spent in jail awaiting resolution of his case.
If Ash behaves well in prison, he could be released in about 30 years (though the Florida Department of Corrections has discretion in how to apply “gain time”).
Ash was accused of shooting Timothy Preston last year in Ash’s house at 8638 Hamster Drive in Zephyrhills, then taking the body through the woods near the railroad tracks and burning it, along with Preston’s rental car. Witnesses reported hearing two shots in the house and an autopsy by the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office said the victim died “as a result of being shot in the back of the head twice.”
Ash was initially charged with second-degree murder but the charges were upgraded to first-degree murder shortly after his arrest last spring.