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Slaying suspect turns himself in

A Zephyrhills teen is accused of fatally shooting a 33-year-old man as revenge for a bad drug deal, police say. He maintains he is innocent.

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 31, 2002

ZEPHYRHILLS -- A former Zephyrhills High School football standout was facing murder charges Thursday, accused of gunning down a 33-year-old man in what authorities say was revenge for a drug deal gone awry.

Robert Andrew "A.J." Devonshire Jr., 17, of 5536 Brown St. went with attorney Bill Eble to surrender at the Pasco County jail in Land O'Lakes about 7 p.m. Wednesday. Eble said Devonshire maintains his innocence.

For Devonshire, the shooting at 2 a.m. May 24 in an area known by police for drug activity marks the start of a long journey through the justice system, facing the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

For the victim, Zephyrhills house painter Joel Wigenton, the shooting marked the end of a rough journey toward sobriety, his family said.

Investigators say Devonshire and Wigenton were connected by crack cocaine. They say Devonshire thought Wigenton had stolen from him in a deal earlier and wanted revenge. Meanwhile, Wigenton was out early last Friday looking for a fix. The two crossed paths on the Sixth Avenue extension, and Wigenton took a bullet in the left side, killing him.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Jon Powers said Devonshire was riding in a car when he saw Wigenton's Camaro. He got out of the car, walked up and fired into the Camaro's driver's side window.

Wigenton's mother-in-law, Pat McWilliams, said the role of crack cocaine doesn't tell the whole story about a man who worked hard to support his family.

"He was trying so hard to get off that stuff," McWilliams said. "It had a hold on him. He was going to classes to stop. . . . It's always right when they are doing better."

McWilliams said despite his battle with cocaine, Wigenton was a good father to his three children and a good husband to her daughter, Jerri.

"He was very loving," she said. "He loved to go fishing with his boys, over behind the Crystal Springs cemetery. That's where he's going to be buried, in that cemetery. And he loved flowers and plants and gardening."

Jerri Wigenton said she remembers the moment the shot was fired. She was in the driver's seat, but the bullet whizzed past her.

It struck her husband in the left arm before burrowing into his side. Her mother said she was too shaken up to talk about the shooting in detail.

"I could feel the pressure as the window broke," Jerri Wigenton said. "It went right by me."

Thanks in part to tipsters, deputies had their warrant by last Friday afternoon but did not locate Devonshire during the weekend. Eble called detectives Tuesday to arrange the surrender.

Eble said Devonshire would be making no statements outside of court, and a woman who answered the telephone at Devonshire's house said she had nothing to say.

But his former Zephyrhills High School football coach, Tom Fisher, recalled a rambunctious young man who worked his way up from the Police Athletic League to start on his high school squad.

He was known as a hard-hitting player, and as a linebacker he was voted "quickest to the ball" in a November St. Petersburg Times poll of area football coaches.

When Zephyrhills defeated arch-rival Pasco High 34-27 on Oct. 26, Devonshire recovered a fumble in the closing seconds to secure victory, then he cramped up while celebrating on the turf of W.F. Edwards Stadium in Dade City.

But Fisher said Devonshire, known on the squad as "A.J.," had his problems.

"He was a prankster; he was kind of loud," Fisher said. "He had to be shut up at times. Sometimes very strictly. Sometimes laughingly. I'd have to tell when he gets too loud or rides a kid too hard where it could lead to tempers flaring, then he had to be controlled."

He was dumped from the team for disciplinary reasons in 2000, but the coach gave him another chance at the start of the 2001 season. He said Devonshire tried to tone down his act, tried not to incite other players, but troubles with police ended up with him being cut in November.

Sheriff's spokesman Powers said records show Devonshire was charged with burglary in 1999, and court records show he faced two charges of driving with a suspended license and one count of attempting to flee police. As a juvenile, however, not all arrests would be reflected in public court records.

Fisher said he worked hard with Devonshire but couldn't control influences outside of school.

"It's hard to control a kid's environment away from the school," the coach said. "I tried to control him as much as I could at the school, football-wise . . . and preach as much as I could to get him on the right track, but I couldn't control his environment. He's just a victim of his environment."

But the coach also blamed Devonshire for making poor decisions.

"He's a smart kid," Fisher said. "He could have made some wiser choices, and he was given plenty of chances by the administration at school and myself. He chose the easy road. It's an unfortunate situation."

Zephyrhills police Sgt. Randy Belasic said the area along Sixth Avenue east of the railroad tracks is known as a drug haven, but dealers there know that because of uneven city boundaries, there is an area where they can quickly cross city limits into the county, creating a jurisdictional problem for law officers.

"They don't care if we're there or not," Belasic said. "They'll hit the woods running and they're gone."

Belasic said when drug dealers work with impunity, and when customers follow them anywhere to buy crack, it's tough to keep teens from being sucked in.

"When you do catch them, they don't spend much time in jail," Belasic said. "How can you tell somebody to go get a job flipping burgers or bagging groceries making minimum wage, when they can make $200 or $300 an hour selling drugs?"

For McWilliams, the arrest brings some comfort, but it doesn't bring back the man who died.

The Blue Angels, a Dade City-based organization that helps with the cost of burials when families can't meet the steep bills, is helping the Wigenton family. A car wash to raise money is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at Jim's Tire and Wheel at U.S. 301 and Lock Street.

Devonshire remained in the Pasco County jail in Land O'Lakes on Friday in lieu of $100,000 bail. Powers said he is charged as an adult but would be housed in a juvenile wing of the jail.

-- Times staff writers Matthew Waite and Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

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