Son of USF football coach Skip Holtz involved in bully trial

5:46 PM, Sep 17, 2010   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida - The affection of a girl led several South Tampa teenagers to court Friday.

South Tampa businessman Eric Canonico and his family say they had endured enough. He decided in early May that he would stand his ground against a young man whom he labeled as a bully.

McKenzie Cochran, the 18-year-old son of Canonico's girlfriend, was at the time dating a girl in which Plant High School football player Trey Holtz also had an interest.

Trey is the son of USF football coach Skip Holtz.

McKenzie says on several occasions, friends of Trey slapped and threatened him, and Trey sent threatening text messages to his phone.

McKenzie testified in court Friday, "I told him that he also struck me in the face twice with my sister sitting there, crying her eyes out." When asked if he did anything to strike back, McKenzie replied, "No sir."

The events of early in the morning of May 1st are what brought everyone together in a Hillsborough County courtroom Friday to talk about the case. It is now going to trial.

During testimony, Canonico says at 3 a.m. on May 1st, he feared for the safety of his girlfriend and their family.  He says McKenzie was scared as well.

"I saw two other boys standing there walking, looking around.  I yelled back into the house, 'They're here they're here, they're here!'" McKenzie said.

An SUV was parked outside their South Tampa home, and with prior experiences of vandalism to their vehicles and property, Canonico told the family to stay in the house.

McKenzie had gone outside to move vehicles in the driveway. Canonico had armed himself with a .357 handgun. He ordered the three teenagers in the SUV to their knees with hands on their heads.

Among the teens was Trey Holtz, who complied with Canonico's orders. Another teen decided to challenge Canonico and asked, "What are you going to do old man, shoot us all?"

Canonico says the teen was walking toward him making threatening gestures, that's when he fired his gun once into the ground a few feet away.

Shortly after that exchange, Tampa police arrived and took control of the situation, arresting Canonico on charges of discharge of a weapon and false imprisonment.

Canonico's attorney, Kevin Ambler, co-wrote Florida's "Stand your Ground" Law. Ambler calls Canonico's case the poster child for the law. However, Judge Ron Ficarrotta, disagrees.

After hearing almost four hours of testimony, the judge said Canonico presented himself as a law abiding citizen and didn't seem to be "a gun toting nut." However, the defense did not present sufficient evidence to meet the burden to prove immunity.

Trey and his friends were allowed to participate in Plant High School's Thursday night football game in Texas against Abileine High School.

Melanie Brooks and Beau Zimmer, 10 News

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