CLEARWATER — A mentally ill man pleaded guilty this morning to trying to kill a black city employee three years ago while yelling a racial epithet, on the condition he doesn’t spend more than 20 years in prison.
Gerald Prebe, a 38-year-old design school dropout who is bipolar, was charged with attempted murder and leaving the scene of a crash involving injury after he rammed his Nissan pickup into Terry Butler, who he didn’t know, on April 28, 2011.
At the time, Butler, now 54, was taking a break from his job with Clearwater’s traffic and engineering department when the Nissan pinned him against his own pickup, a Ford, on a city street. Butler suffered leg and back injuries, and eventually had to retire on a disability pension.
Prebe, who had his wife and son with him at the time of the crime, drove off afterward and went to his sister’s house.
Bjorn Brunvand, one of Prebe’s defense attorneys, told Pinellas Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone this morning that at the time he ran into Butler, Prebe thought terrorists were following him.
If convicted by a jury, Prebe could have been sent to prison for a maximum of 35 years, which was the sentence preferred by Butler, Assistant State Attorney Christopher Ballard said in court.
But prosecutors had long had a different offer on the table — a 20-year sentence, followed by 10 years probation.
Brunvand wanted a significantly shorter prison sentence for his client in exchange for a plea — 8 1/2 to 10 years in prison.
Ballard persuaded Butler to accept a 20-year cap, meaning Prebe can’t be sentenced to more than that amount when Bulone decides what punishment to mete out on March 21.
“It’s reasonable,” Butler said of the arrangement.
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