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Teen gets deal in USF slaying

By COLLEEN JENKINS
Published June 8, 2006


TAMPA - Just before midnight Feb. 9, while three friends tried to rob a stranger, Najee D. Hunter waited in the car that his mother had bought him to get to his job at Burger King and classes at King High School.

But the stranger, 57-year-old Ronald Stem, didn't give them any money. So one of the teens shot him dead in the parking lot of a University of South Florida residence hall.

Though Hunter didn't pull the trigger, or even leave his car, he faced life in prison on a first-degree murder charge.

"He was young," said his mother, Wanda Keenan. "He didn't know."

He did, however, help lead investigators to other suspects. That decision likely helped score the 18-year-old a plea deal that carries a much shorter prison sentence and a long period of probation.

Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner announced the agreement in court Wednesday. In exchange for testifying against Morgan Tyler Nelson and Rashad Jamel Taylor, the suspected trigger man, Hunter was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and attempted robbery with a weapon.

If he lives up to his end of the bargain, Hunter will be sentenced on Nov. 20 to five years in prison and 10 years of probation.

"He's doing the right thing," said Mike Benito, Hunter's defense attorney. "He had no idea that a killing was going to take place."

Hunter admitted to authorities that he drove the getaway car for Taylor, Nelson and another unidentified person. USF's campus police say Taylor shot Stem as the older man left the Magnolia Apartments residence hall.

Stem, an Army veteran and recent USF graduate student, had been visiting his fiancee at the residence hall where he had lived a few years before.

A security camera recorded three individuals running across the parking lot after the shooting but didn't capture the shooting.

Both Taylor, 17, and Nelson, 16, face first-degree murder charges. Their trials have not been set.

Several generations of Hunter's family squeezed into a courtroom bench Wednesday to support the young man. They said they'll remain by him for the long road ahead.

"He got caught up in something," his mother said. "My heart goes out to the victim and his family."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 813 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 8, 2006, 06:53:09]


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