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One saw shooting; one saw the blood

Two women testify against a defendant charged in a May 2002 home invasion that ended in a fatal shooting.

Published October 20, 2004

CLEARWATER - Testimony began this week in the trial of a St. Petersburg man accused of shooting a man to death during a 2002 home-invasion robbery in Clearwater.

Eric M. Anderson, 29, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the May 7, 2002, death of Johnnie Michael Thomas, 35. If convicted, Anderson could be sentenced to death.

Clearwater police say Anderson went to Thomas' Parkwood Street home to get $500 in cocaine. Detectives say Anderson, who had a handgun, confronted Thomas outside, then forced him inside.

Thomas's wife, Brenda, awoke during the robbery and saw a man in her bedroom holding a gun to her husband's head. Thomas, who kept money in the bedroom, apparently made a move for the gun. The gunman fired two bullets into Thomas' upper torso, pulled a crucifix from his neck and fled.

Brenda Thomas said she could not identify the robber because he had a cloth over his face.

But a woman who had driven Anderson to Thomas' home to buy drugs later told police that he had what appeared to be blood on his clothes when he exited the home. She also reported hearing two gunshots while she waited outside in the car.

The woman, who police believe did not know Anderson would attempt a robbery when she drove him to the house, also said Anderson threatened her if she talked to detectives.

A third person, Tremayne Z. Smith, 29, also went to the home, but police have been unable to positively establish his role in the incident. Smith has not been charged in the death, but he is in the Pinellas County Jail on an unrelated domestic battery charge.

Thomas' slaying came during an outbreak of violence in Clearwater that year that included about a half-dozen armed robberies and one other homicide. Detectives began looking for Anderson after they received information linking him to the crimes.

Anderson later turned himself in, but he refused to speak with investigators. He was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on multiple charges of robbery and aggravated assault with a firearm.

Six weeks later, the detectives added a murder charge after developing evidence they say implicates Anderson in Thomas' death.

The state later dropped many of the other robbery and assault charges because some witnesses and victims didn't want to testify.

Police say Anderson remains a subject of interest in all those cases, including the February 2002 shooting death of Clarence Bolden. He was killed by a masked robber as he played cards with friends in a Fulton Street cottage, not far from where Thomas would be killed three months later.

The Thomas case stuck, however, especially after lab tests showed that human tissue found under Thomas' fingernails contained Anderson's DNA.

Anderson has pleaded not guilty to the charge. His attorney, Daniel Hernandez, said he will be challenging the credibility of witnesses and DNA evidence.

Testimony is expected to continue today.

[Last modified October 20, 2004, 00:17:24]

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