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Revenge blamed for killing

The victim, a homeless Gibsonton man, stabbed their friend last month, deputies say.

By S.I. ROSENBAUM and BEN MONTGOMERY
Published February 1, 2007


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GIBSONTON - Jeffrey Price was found early Sunday stomped in the face, beaten over the head with a gun, stabbed in the heart with his own knife and left naked in the rain behind an Advance Auto Parts on U.S. 41.

The three men who killed him, authorities say, were after $180 and revenge.

Authorities said Richard Morse Jr., 18, admitted killing Price, a 31-year-old ex-carnie who ate so much peanut butter his friends called him "Jiffy."

They said Morse was out to avenge the December stabbing of his friend, Travis Riley. Deputies are still looking for two more of Morse's friends - Ralph Woods, 25, and Raymond Darell Sample, 27, both of Riverview.

The motive for the killing, authorities said, goes back a month to a brawl in the dark on the railroad tracks.

"I'm having nightmares," Morse told the St. Petersburg Times via telephone from jail, where he was being held Wednesday on a first-degree murder charge. "I want to have all the truth put out."

This is his version:

Warm winter night, Dec. 29. Morse and Riley and their friends wandered through Gibsonton's trailer parks and back yards. They visited some girls. They bought Bacardi Gold and Captain Morgan.

At the Circle K, a Mexican from another gang recognized them as GibTown Soldiers. He waved a sawed-off shotgun at them, then he drove away.

Morse was not quite 18, and already he had a long history with the law. Grand larceny. Petty larceny. Burglary. Battery. He was on probation.

Later he was walking along the tracks, his cousins up ahead and him, Riley and a friend trailing.

Morse saw two vagrants come up to Riley. One was Kenneth Wilson, the other was Price. "Why y'all jump my boys?" Morse remembers Price asking.

"He pulls out a flashlight and tries to blind us," Morse said. "He pulls out a butterfly knife. I kicked at the flashlight. I threw rocks at it and busted it."

'He stabbed me'

Everyone scattered. Wilson was throwing kerosene on Morse, then he threw the can. "I bum-rushed him," Morse said. "I grabbed him."

Morse saw Price with a knife. He pushed Wilson away and ran into the brush.

He found Riley bleeding.

"He stabbed me," Riley said. "He stabbed me."

He thought Riley was dying. "Call the cops," Riley said.

"Dude, I don't want to call the cops."

"Call the cops."

Morse left Riley and ran to the Chevron.

Detectives tell a different version. They say Price and another homeless man were defending themselves from Morse and Riley and a third person that night. That's why they charged Morse and teenager Gabriel Greer with assault and battery.

Riley was flown to Tampa General Hospital.

"He was close to death," sheriff's Maj. Robert Shrader said.

Riley survived, but he lost a lung. Sheriff's deputies kept an eye on him, but didn't arrest him.

"We had [conflicting stories] and we had to be sure we were charging the right person," Shrader said.

'He's out for revenge'

Besides, the Sheriff's Office doesn't arrest suspects who are invalids. "Otherwise, he becomes an inmate, and the Sheriff's Office becomes liable for all medical expenses," he said.

Weeks went by. On Jan. 16, a sheriff's deputy stopped at the hospital to check on Riley. But Riley was released two days before.

Within two days, the Sheriff's Office had a warrant charging Riley with assault.

George Burnett, 56, who knew Price from the streets, said he was sitting on a curb around that time when a deputy rolled down his window and asked if he had seen Travis Riley.

"He's out," Burnett recalled the deputy saying. "And he's out for revenge."

Deputies scoured Gibsonton for Riley.

"When someone wants to go underground who doesn't have a lot of ties and connections to the community," Shrader said, "who doesn't have a job they go to every day, doesn't have a family - you can go underground and stay gone for a while."

Pair hiding in shed

All this time, Morse was in jail.

He was held without bond because he violated probation, said Pam Bondi, spokeswoman for the State Attorney's office. Prosecutors were searching for Price. They needed his testimony within 21 days to press charges against Morse.

But he, too, was gone.

Morse, of Gibsonton, turned 18 on Jan. 20. The next day, the 21-day limit was up. On Friday, Morse stood before Circuit Judge Manuel Lopez, who released him on his own recognizance, less than 48 hours before Price was found dead.

Riley and Morse were arrested after dark on Sunday after they broke into a shed on Linda Street, deputies said. Someone tipped off the deputies to their location.

It wasn't long before both were talking.

Riley told detectives he stayed in the car. When the others returned, Morse showed Riley a bloody knife.

"I got him like he got you, dawg," he said, according to what Riley told the detectives. "I took his lung."

Morse told detectives that he, Ralph Woods and Raymond Sample jumped Price behind the auto parts store and robbed him of $180. Morse punched Price in the face and stripped off his pants. That's when he found the knife, authorities said.

Mark Desautels, 16, Morse's cousin, said Morse denied the killing on Sunday.

"He said he had nothing to do with it," Mark said. "But he could've been lying."

Staff writer Helen Anne Travis and researcher Angie Holan contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reachedat bmontgomery@sptimes.com or 813 661-2443. S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at srosenbaum@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442.

Deadly dispute

Dec 29: Travis Riley, Richard Morse, and Gabriel Greer encounter Kenneth Wilson and Jeffrey Price on the train tracks. Price stabs Riley. Authorities say he was defending himself.

Jan 14: Riley is released from the hospital.

Jan 16: The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office finds out that Riley has been released.

Jan 18: A warrant is issued for Riley and deputies begin a search for him. They can't find him.

Friday: Morse is released from jail, where he had been held without bond on a probation violation. Prosecutors can't find Price and can't press charges on Morse without him.

Sunday: Price's body is found in a parking lot in Gibsonton. Deputies later find Riley and Morse. Morse confesses to killing Price.

[Last modified February 1, 2007, 06:09:27]


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