SEBRING — Joseph Edward Ables, 70, of Lake Placid, is the man accused of shooting Highlands County Deputy Sheriff William J. Gentry Jr. on May 6, 2018. Gentry died from the gunshot wounds the next day.

Ables is being charged with first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and possession of a firearm by convicted felon. He was indicted by a grand jury in May 2018. State Attorney Brian Haas announced he would seek the death penalty if Ables is found guilty.

Ables’ lawyer, Julia J. Williamson with the Public Defender’s Office, e-filed a motion just before noon Monday to sever the two charges.

In the motion, the murder charge is listed as Count 1 of the indictment and the possession of a firearm by a convicted felon charge is considered Count 2.

Williamson gave several reasons and case precedents for “grounds for severance,” mainly dealing in providing the defendant with a fair trial. The defense writes the “allegation that Defendant is a convicted felon, is wholly unrelated to the offense of First Degree Murders charged in Count 1 of the indictment.”

She goes on to say that Ables’ previous felony conviction have “no probative value” and could potentially deny the defendant a fair trial.

Williamson pointed out the severance was imperative in this case as it was a capital case and failing to grant the motion would “violate Defendant’s right to a fair trial, effective assistance of counsel and due process of the law as required by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution ...”

Williamson’s motion stated the severance must be granted if there is no probative value of the other charges listed in the indictment; in this case, the first-degree murder charge.

Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin told the Highlands News-Sun the motion is standard practice. He said he will not oppose the motion as the law on severance is very clear. Houchin said Monday he plans to have the trial in Highlands County.

Williamson represented her client in an Aug. 8 pretrial conference. Houchin told the Highlands News-Sun prior to the meeting that he expected to get the defense’s witness list. The witness list is important because it should give Houchin an idea of the type of plea the defendant will use.

On Monday he said he has not been given the “promised” list as of yet.

The next pretrial conference is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29.

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