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After 6 years of praying, parents may find closure

Their son was shot to death in Tampa. Now police have arrested a man they think was the accomplice.

By BEN MONTGOMERY
Published August 6, 2006


TAMPA - Jon Kittles had a nervous breakdown at a Chrysler plant in Wisconsin, so he moved south to chase peace in the Florida sunshine.

After he was shot dead in a rented bedroom on N Arden Avenue six years ago, police couldn't find his killer.

Billy and Judith Kittles, 650 miles away in Boaz, Ala., never stopped praying. They'd watch Cold Case Files on A&E and wonder if they'd ever learn who shot their son.

"It ruined my life," said Judith Kittles, who turned 69 on Friday. "Ruined both of ours."

On Saturday, thanks to new information and the persistence of homicide Detective Eric Houston, the Kittles got a phone call.

Tampa police arrested Cedrich A. Covington, 29, and charged him with robbery and first-degree murder in the death of Jon Kittles. They think Covington, who has been in and out of jail at least four times since the May 18, 2000, killing, was an accomplice.

As for the shooter?

"We're hot on his trail," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Here, according to McElroy, is what police think happened:

At 4 p.m. on May 18, 2000, Covington called Kittles and wanted to swap cocaine for two marijuana plants. Kittles agreed, and Covington and another man went to 10907 N Arden Ave., near Fowler Avenue, where Kittles rented a room.

There was a dispute over the drugs. Covington and the other man pulled guns and robbed Kittles, 35, and his housemate, Johnny Scott Lankford, 23, McElroy said. The gunman with Covington forced Kittles into his bedroom where there was a struggle and Kittles ended up dead.

Lankford couldn't help police because he had never seen the two men before.

To solve the cold case, Houston re-interviewed old witnesses. He learned of another person who saw Covington and the other man that night unloading the marijuana from their car at a house near the intersection of 14th Street and Waters Avenue.

Covington, who has a lengthy criminal record including cocaine possession and battery on a law enforcement officer, was arrested at 8:30 p.m. Friday and was held without bail Saturday. He has denied involvement, McElroy said.

Billy Kittles said he and his wife had been in touch with a Tampa detective for a while after Jon Kittles' death, but they lost touch and hadn't heard any news.

"We thought we were going to die without knowing," Judith said.

They said that Jon, a history buff who read the encyclopedia for pleasure, had a mental disorder that erupted at the car plant in Kenosha, Wis., where the family lived for years. They figured his problems had something to do with the death of their other son, who was hit by a drunken driver in 1981. They also have three surviving daughters.

Jon moved to Tampa after the meltdown and lived off government disability checks and a pension from Chrysler.

He liked Florida. He rode his bicycle, collected CDs and rooted for the Buccaneers. But he got mixed up with the wrong crowd, Judith said.

"Got mixed up with the marijuana," she said.

A reporter delivered the news of the arrest on Saturday. The two were elated.

"I'm just thrilled!" said Billy Kittles. "Thank God!"

"I have been praying for this day for so long," said Judith Kittles. She sounded like she was crying. "This is the best birthday present I've ever had."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or 813 661-2443.

[Last modified August 6, 2006, 01:22:46]


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