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Gainesville man receives 30-year sentence for violent courtroom attack on his defense attorney

Obadiah Dillard appears in a separate courtroom through a TV monitor before the trial begins. A jury ultimately found him guilty of assaulting his defense attorney in late 2022. (Charlize Ramos/WUFT News)
Obadiah Dillard appears in a separate courtroom through a TV monitor before the trial begins. A jury ultimately found him guilty of assaulting his defense attorney in late 2022. (Charlize Ramos/WUFT News)

A long-awaited trial of a man accused of punching his defense attorney in an Alachua County courtroom in November, fracturing his skull, wrapped up this week.

Obadiah Dillard, who is on trial for aggravated battery, appeared in Alachua County Courthouse on Monday via TV screen, having been isolated from the main courtroom where the judge and Dillard's attorney sat. A jury quickly found Dillard guilty on one count of aggravated battery against defense attorney Eric Atria and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

While facing trial in November 2022, Dillard was shown on camera in the main courtroom punching his own attorney on the left side of his head, fracturing Atria’s skull.

The assault moved the Florida Senate to unanimously pass SB 384 in April, a bill aimed to protect defense attorneys from their criminal defendants.

Despite Dillard's multiple requests to represent himself in the assault trial, he was represented on Monday in court by defense attorney Bill Salmon. State attorney Brian Kramer served as the prosecutor with Circuit Judge David Kreider presiding over the trial.

The morning began with the judge, Salmon and Kramer convening in courtroom 1B at the Alachua County Courthouse with Dillard appearing over a TV monitor from a separate courtroom, as directed by the judge.

Dillard was wearing an orange jumpsuit, and a spit mask and had two armed deputies behind him. The spit mask was warranted after Dillard spit at Salmon during a meeting Friday.

The judge permitted Dillard to participate as much as his behavior would allow. According to Deputy Robert Smith, Dillard refused to meet with his attorney and did not want to participate in the trial. He made suicidal statements and requested to be returned to the jail. Per his request, Dillard was transported back.

At 9:55 a.m. on Monday, prospective jury members entered the courtroom. The selection process began with a series of individual questions for all those sitting in the box.

“The job of the jury is to determine the facts and apply them to the law and be fair while doing it,” Kramer said.

It was narrowed down to seven jurors after any biases, connections, or personal reasons for whether they could serve or not were explored among other potential jury members.

Before opening statements, Salmon explained to the jury that Dillard would not appear with him in court.

“I feel almost professionally naked,” Salmon said, referring to not having his client present.

None of the jurors expressed to the court that the absence of the plaintiff would affect their decision-making.

Opening statements then began with Kramer addressing the jury and presenting his first piece of evidence: courtroom security footage with and without the volume of the events that took place on Nov. 15, 2022.

Salmon then gave a brief statement that urged the jury to acknowledge the frustration and disappointment Dillard must have felt when the one chance to defend himself was taken away.

After opening statements from the prosecution and defense, Kramer called witnesses to the stand. They included assistant state attorney Rich Chang, as well as Atria.

It was not long after their testimony that the state rested its case and then soon after the defense did, too.

The jury found Dillard guilty of aggravated battery with great bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement.

The judge sentenced Dillard to 30 years in prison due to his status as what the state defines as a "habitual felony offender."

Charlize is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.