Teen enters plea in mud bog death

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

A 15-year-old New Port Richey teen pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges in the death of a 24-year-old Citrus County man at a Levy County mud bog.
Chris Sutherlin Jr., who is on home detention, did not appear in court, but instead entered a written plea on Friday at an arraignment before Levy County Judge James "Tim" Browning. Sutherlin Jr. is charged with manslaughter in the stabbing of Roderic "Rod" Sparks at Horse Hole Mud Bog near Inglis on May 28.
The stabbing occurred during a verbal and physical altercation initiated by the teen's father, Chris Sutherlin Sr.
About 30 members of Spark's family and friends attended the short hearing wearing red T-shirts and wristbands proclaiming "Justice for Rod." They were advised by court officials they cannot wear the shirts in the court. Several persons wore their shirts inside out while others put on shirts to conceal most of the T-shirts' message.
"I am disappointed," said Anna Sparks, the victim's mother. She said the shirts and wristbands were made by family members and friends as were the buttons with photos of Rod Sparks at a detention hearing for Sparks last month.
The family had pushed for Sutherlin Jr. to be charged as an adult but the State Attorney's Office, which has refused to comment on the case citing state confidentiality law on juvenile cases, is apparently going ahead with plans to try the teen as a juvenile.
The Sparks family has also questioned why Sutherlin Sr. has not faced any charges in connection with the fight and his son's actions. According to a Levy County Sheriff's press release the altercation started when Sutherlin Sr. threw a can at Sparks' truck and yelled at him about making noise. Sparks got out of the truck and confronted Sutherlin Sr. and a verbal altercation evolved into a fight. When Sparks started to overwhelm the father, the son stepped in and stabbed Sparks, according to the sheriff's release.
Sutherlin's family did not attend today's proceeding.
The next hearing in the case is July 22 when Browning will hear any motions filed in the case.