He testifies he feared for his mother's safety when he confessed to killing a Pasco County officer.
By CHASE SQUIRES
Published April 6, 2004
[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Former professional football player Darren Hambrick testifies during a hearing for Alfredie Steele Jr., charged in the death of sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison. Hambrick talked about bringing Steele from Daytona Beach for questioning.
DADE CITY - As detectives questioned him last summer about the shooting death of Pasco County sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison, Alfredie Steele Jr. told them on a videotape he "just pulled the trigger and ran."
But Monday, Steele testified he gave the statement only because sheriff's deputies had surrounded his mother's Lacoochee home, and he was afraid they were going to break in and hurt her.
Steele, now 20, testified in court for the second time as his public defender continued a bid to have Steele's potentially incriminating statements removed from the case. Ex-professional football player Darren Hambrick also testified.
Steele is charged with first-degree murder, and the state will seek the death penalty if he is convicted in the June 1 attack on Harrison. The sheriff's supervisor was 57 and less than two weeks from retirement when he was shot to death in his patrol car while on duty near a Trilacoochee nightclub.
Deputies arrested Steele two days after the shooting, after Steele gave two statements to investigators.
In a 17-minute conversation Steele had on tape with Detectives Jennifer Christensen and James Medley, Steele said he had just left the Rumors nightclub and was drunk when he fired on Harrison's car. He said he didn't mean to hurt anyone.
The tape was played publicly for the first time Monday.
"When I came out of the club, I was drunk ... staggering and stuff. I got drunk to try to get stuff off my mind. It didn't help," Steele said.
Steele said he was upset over the death of friends, one in a car crash after a chase with deputies. He said he saw a marked patrol car across the street.
"My mind went blank, like I was in a dream or something," he said. "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."
Weeping, Steele said, "I didn't mean to kill Mr. Bobo. I'm sorry Mr. Bobo."
When Medley asked Steele where the SKS assault rifle used in the shooting was, Steele asked for an attorney. Medley stopped the questions and informed Steele he was under arrest.
The conversation on the tape closes as Christensen calls for a patrol officer to take Steele to jail.
Public defender Tom Hanlon, trying to keep the statement from a jury, presented Steele and his cousin, Nathaniel Van Zant, as witnesses. Both said armed deputies were outside the home of Steele's mother, Regina Clemmons, and the people inside feared for their safety if Steele didn't give a statement at the Sheriff's Office in Dade City.
"It seemed to me they wanted to kill me," Steele testified. "I looked at it like this: If I don't go back down there, they're going to come in."
Deputies testified they were only in the area to take a cast of Steele's footprint in the dirt and had a directive to steer clear of Lacoochee.
Hanlon called former Pasco High School star and National Football League player Hambrick to the witness stand to testify about the night he drove Clemmons to Daytona Beach to retrieve Steele and bring him to the Sheriff's Office to answer questions.
Hambrick, out of professional football for a year, gave his occupation as "unemployed."
He said he couldn't recall much of what was asked, but when asked whether he or others in Lacoochee feared for their safety from deputies as he drove through Pasco County with Steele in his SUV, he answered, "not really."
Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper said she will hear closing arguments in the motion to exclude Steele's statements on April 23. The trial remains tentatively set for June, but one issue on trial procedure has already been appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which could delay the case.