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Guilty plea caps a tale of abuse

His lawyer and friends say a man who killed his business partner was the real victim. But he accepts a plea deal.

By COLLEEN JENKINS
Published October 13, 2006


TAMPA - Officially, R. VanGorden Stedman and Adam Schulman were business partners who dealt in antiques and fine art.

But when Stedman fatally shot Schulman, with the winds of Hurricane Jeanne swirling around them, Stedman was more like a battered spouse who feared for his life, his attorney said.

Facing life in prison for second-degree murder, however, Stedman on Thursday accepted a guilty plea for manslaughter. Circuit Judge Manuel Lopez sentenced him to seven years in prison, followed by eight years of probation.

Schulman's family members, who once considered "Van" Stedman a close friend, were in court to watch him get taken away in handcuffs.

"It's a sad day, you know, for everybody," said Pat Schulman, the victim's mother.

Court records describe a once-productive relationship that spiraled into tragedy.

Schulman, 33, introduced Stedman, a New York native, to his friends in the local art world. In April 2002, the two men formed Stedman Fine Arts, which they ran out of a South Tampa office.

Though the men considered each other friends, Schulman became increasingly more controlling and abusive toward Stedman, according to defense attorney Jay Hebert.

One business associate of the two men testified in a deposition that Schulman frequently made condescending remarks about Stedman and, a month before the shooting, claimed to have kicked Stedman 20 times during a fight.

The business associate also heard Schulman threaten the lives of both Stedman and Stedman's wife.

Other people who knew Schulman testified in depositions about his tendency to rage and yell at customers.

By late August or early September 2004, Stedman realized he was in an abusive relationship. The art appraiser decided to move back to New York. On Sept. 27, 2004, as he was clearing out his apartment at 1314 De Soto Ave. in South Tampa, Schulman showed up.

The men argued. Schulman slapped Stedman, according to police reports. When Stedman's glasses flew off, Schulman stomped on them.

Timothy Roe, a man Stedman had hired in New York to help him move, saw the argument. But he initially told police he was in the bathroom and hadn't seen anything.

He later changed his story. In his deposition, he said Schulman was the aggressor who angrily refused to leave despite Stedman's pleas.

Roe said he heard Schulman say, "I'm going to get you." Within seconds, Roe heard gunshots.

Stedman told Roe to call the police. When police arrived, Stedman said, "I shot him. I shot him."

Prosecutors were bothered by the fact that Schulman had two gunshot wounds in his back. They also questioned whether Stedman had a motive to kill over the business breaking up and the money involved, Hebert said.

Stedman, 41, whose only other criminal record was a Pinellas County driving under the influence, decided a plea deal was in his best interest.

"It was a tragedy all the way around," Hebert said. "He compromised because he felt his life was at stake, and I can respect that."

Pat Schulman said she was glad the legal ordeal was over.

"Nobody," she said, "could ever feel any worse than losing a child."

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

[Last modified October 13, 2006, 01:21:23]


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