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Driver sought in store robbery

Officers think the teen suspect killed by a deputy had an accomplice.

By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2002

PINELLAS PARK -- Pinellas sheriff's officials now say they believe someone drove 16-year-old Christopher Greene to the convenience store early Saturday where he was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy after raping a clerk.

Sheriff's officials also say the Colt .45 Greene used to rob the store had been stolen during a burglary that occurred in the weeks before the holdup. That burglary occurred while Greene was in jail on other charges, officials said.

A sheriff's deputy shot and killed Greene after the teen pointed the stolen gun at the deputy, officials said. Responding to an alarm at the store, the deputy walked in on Greene raping the clerk, officials said.

Detectives are investigating whether Greene had any accomplices in the robbery. If he did, they could be charged with second-degree murder in connection with the boy's death.

"If there is another person involved, is (a murder charge) something we can consider? Absolutely," said Bruce Bartlett, the chief assistant state attorney in Pinellas and Pasco counties. "If the Sheriff's Office can develop a sufficient basis, that certainly is an option."

Over the course of the week, sheriff's officials have become convinced that someone drove Greene to the Sunoco at 7091 Park Blvd. in Pinellas Park. That store is about 4 miles from Greene's home, where his father had last seen him about midnight.

The low temperature that morning was in the high 40s. Greene didn't drive his father's car to the store, even though the keys were in his father's pants on the floor in front of his bedroom door.

Sheriff's officials say it's difficult to believe Greene would walk to the store.

"We know he didn't get there on his own," said Sgt. Greg Tita, a Sheriff's Office spokesman. "Now, whether or not the people that dropped him off . . . knew what was going to take place, that's still under investigation."

That will be important in any potential murder prosecution. If the person or people who drove Greene to the store knew he was about to commit a robbery, they will be considered accomplices and could be charged with murder.

"Investigators are developing and following up leads that could identify who knew . . . of what happened the night of the shooting, which could lead them to "accomplices,' if there were accomplices," Tita said.

Accomplices could be charged with murder under the state's felony murder law. That law states that anyone involved in certain felonies can be charged with murder even if they don't pull the trigger.

The State Attorney's Office has prosecuted such cases before, though they are infrequent.

In 1992, a 20-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy were charged with felony second-degree murder after their accomplice in a robbery at a St. Petersburg pawn shop was shot to death by the shop owner.

The boy was prosecuted as a juvenile, but the adult was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 12 years in prison, court records show.

Last year, a suspected accomplice in a Seminole home-invasion robbery, in which the homeowner shot and killed the robber, was charged with second-degree murder. A trial in October was declared a mistrial after jurors couldn't reach a verdict.

Investigators also are continuing to search for a witness who told a deputy he saw a dark-colored pickup speed away from the store about the time of the robbery. The witness disappeared Saturday before giving his name.

Detectives haven't determined if that vehicle was involved in the robbery.

Detectives say the gun Greene used was stolen during a burglary. Tita declined to be more specific, other than to say the burglary occurred while Greene was in the Pinellas County Jail.

Greene had been in jail for 26 days on unrelated charges of armed residential burglary. His father bailed him out five hours before he allegedly robbed the store and assaulted the clerk.

Greene's father said he suspects his son had been involved with a gang and was trying to extricate himself from the group. He has said he thinks the gang was involved in the robbery.

Investigators have found no evidence of that yet, Tita said.

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