Charge gone, mother aghast

The trial was to start Tuesday. The mother of the victim awaited a call. But the prosecutor finds the fatal stabbing justified.

Published September 30, 2006

Edna Upshaw sat on a sofa in the living room of her cousin's St. Petersburg residence with grief and anger in her eyes.

The mother of Bernard Wells thought she was traveling from Jacksonville to Pinellas County to get justice for her son, who was stabbed to death in March 2005 by his girlfriend's son.

But on Monday, uneasy about what she was going to hear in court or whether she would see photographs of her 34-year-old son's wounded body, Wells called the State Attorney's Office.

"You did what?" Upshaw recalled herself asking when she spoke on the phone with an attorney. "You dropped the charges?"

About a week earlier, on Sept. 19, the state dropped a second-degree murder charge against Winston Gang, 20, of Clearwater.

The trial was to start Tuesday.

State Prosecutor Bob Lewis said Florida Statutes state that a person is justified in the use of deadly force when he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.

"In this case, I believe the facts, as we now know them, demonstrate that Winston Gang's actions were justified and that he was in reasonable fear for his life at the hands of Bernard Wells," Lewis said.

Lewis said they tried to contact Upshaw, but the phone numbers they had for her no longer worked. His office left a message with Wells' father's new wife, who lives in Cape Coral.

"I have letters they sent me telling me about court dates, I have been in contact with them, and a week before they drop the charges, all of a sudden, they can't get in contact with me?" Upshaw said.

"How do I get closure now? I've been waiting and waiting. This was to help me get closure. They could have at least had a conversation with me. How do I move on?"

Bernard Wells and Jacqueline Gang had dated and lived together for about a year in Clearwater.

Gang's then-19-year-old son, Winston Gang, got along fine with Wells initially, but then began to blame Wells for turning his mother into a crack addict, according to court documents.

Upshaw said that Jacqueline Gang, who came to visit her and called her "Mommy," was a drug addict before she met her son.

On March 11, 2005, Winston Gang and Wells got into a fight, according to court documents. Wells was going to leave the house during the verbal argument when Gang asked him "if he was leaving to go get more crack."

"Wells became enraged, verbally and physically challenged Gang and began moving toward him, asking him if he wanted a piece of him," court documents said.

Winston Gang said he saw Wells reach into his pocket and became afraid because he knew that Wells always carried a knife.

"Gang pulled his own folding pocket knife out of his pocket, opened it and the pair ended up in a struggle on the floor," court documents said.

Wells was stabbed 14 times, with three penetrating his chest cavity and one piercing his left lower chest area and the heart.

"He was stabbed 14 times," Wells' sister, Serena Wallace, said Tuesday, sitting across from her mother. "My brother had cuts on his hands. That tells you he was trying to defend himself."

Calls to Jacqueline Gang's residence were referred to attorney Denis deVlaming, who said Gang had earlier been the victim of an unprovoked stabbing in Hillsborough County, and during his tussle with Wells, feared that the same thing could happen again.

Jacqueline Gang noted that Wells weighed about 150 pounds, while court documents said her son weighed about 200.

Neither Winston Gang nor Wells was new to the legal system. Gang has faced other recent charges of drug possession, hit-and-run and leaving the scene of an accident. Wells had previous charges of felony drug possession, assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a knife.

Upshaw said she didn't condone her son's lifestyle. But she said that her son's death, and the news of his killer walking free, is hard to comprehend.

"He called me Nana," Upshaw said of Winston Gang, her eyes filling with tears, then turning to a steely glare.

"I'm trying to understand it all but I can't. This man has murdered someone and can walk around and pop his collar. I'll never hear my son's voice again."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.