04/16/2007

Trial begins in shooting death of Fla. deputy

The Associated Press

DADE CITY, Fla. — In the early hours of a Sunday morning nearly four years ago, two sniper's bullets ripped through the trunk of a Pasco County Sheriff's Office patrol car, killing Lt. Charles "Bo'' Harrison where he sat.

Two weeks from retirement, the 57-year-old Harrison was sitting alone in his parked cruiser on U.S. 301 keeping an eye on a roadhouse called Rumors, where trouble was common at closing time. Colleagues heard the shots and found the 30-year veteran slumped over the steering wheel.

A teenager named Alfredie Steele Jr. turned himself in and told authorities he shot at the patrol car with a high-powered rifle after drinking in the bar, an act of retaliation for the death of a friend who was killed during a car chase with deputies a few weeks earlier.

Steele's own words will make up the bulk of the case against him when his trial opens today in this picturesque town of around 6,400 residents an hour north of Tampa, better known for antique shops and old Florida charm than violent crime and big-time court proceedings.

The death penalty will be sought for Steele, now 23, if he is convicted of first-degree murder. Defense attorneys say evidence is lacking against Steele, who they say confessed only because he feared for his mother's safety when deputies surrounded her home.

The rifle has never been found and there is little other physical evidence, but prosecutors have Steele admitting to the crime on tape - three times. In one videotaped statement played in court during a hearing, Steele told detectives he had spent the night drinking at Rumors and thinking about his friend Mike Reed, who had died in a car crash while being pursued by deputies.

He said he staggered drunk out of the bar and saw the sheriff's patrol car across the street, unaware that Harrison - the agency's highest-ranking black deputy and beloved in the east Pasco County black community where Steele lived - was sitting inside.

"My mind went blank, like I was in a dream or something,'' he told detectives. "I wasn't trying to kill nobody or nothing, just trying to scare them, I guess. ... I didn't even know if I had hit the car or not. I just pulled the trigger and ran.

"I didn't mean to kill Mr. Bobo,'' he said, weeping. "I'm sorry Mr. Bobo.''

Harrison's son, Charles Harrison Jr., said he's convinced Steele committed the crime and is "100 percent behind'' prosecutors who want the death penalty.

"If he knew who was sitting in that car before he shot at it, I don't think he would have done it,'' said Harrison, 31. "But that could have been anybody's daddy sitting in that car.''

To call Bo Harrison's death shocking would be understating its effect on a town that has managed to mostly stay away from big-city problems, despite its proximity to Tampa and sprawl that has crept into the southern part of the county.

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