tampabay.com

Witness: Murder was revenge

The victim and one of the men charged in his killing had fought earlier in the transient camp where they stayed.

By ROBIN STEIN
Published March 27, 2007


TARPON SPRINGS - Police said Monday that retaliation may have been the motive for three men arrested overnight Sunday in connection with the death of a transient found in a camp south of the Anclote River.

Police identified the victim as Michael J. Picciola, 47, and said his body showed signs of being severely beaten with a blunt object and repeatedly stabbed, but the official cause of death is still under investigation.

Del Ray Adams, 46, and John E. Windh, 52, are both charged with first-degree murder. Craig L. Kennedy, 48, was charged with simple battery and trespassing.

All four men were living in camps clustered around the southeastern corner of the expansive land along U.S. Highway 19 where Wal-Mart plans to build a supercenter.

The victim, listed in a November police record as a St. Petersburg painter, has a family member in the Palm Harbor area, who declined to comment Monday.

Police learned of the homicide about 11:30 a.m. Sunday from a woman who said she had witnessed the incident, either Saturday night or very early Sunday morning.

While the woman's name has not yet been released, police said she had been sharing a camp with Adams, one of the suspects. She told authorities that Adams and Windh killed Picciola in retaliation for his attacking Adams earlier on Saturday.

Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were also called to the transient camp to recover a 15-foot python found in the tent shared by the eyewitness and Adams.

The news roiled many in the city's transient community who said Monday that Picciola was a newcomer to the area. Several homeless people said they know Adams and Windh, and were surprised they could be involved with such a violent attack.

It is not yet clear whether the suspects were suffering from any mental illnesses or were under the influence of drugs during the lethal assault, but investigators noted that alcohol is believed to play a role.

Police have released one other man who had been taken into custody for questioning, after determining that he had been in the area but had nothing to do with the attack.

According to records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the victim and all three suspects have a history of arrests, but very few allegations of violence.

Last summer, Picciola was sentenced to five days in Pinellas County Jail after pleading no contest to felony charges of destroying evidence.

Adams has faced a handful of misdemeanor charges for marijuana possession and shoplifting, and Windh has several arrests for minor offenses such as shoplifting. Kennedy's criminal record, which is the lengthiest, contains the only signs of violence, with several charges of domestic battery.

Adams and Windh are being held without bail at the Pinellas County Jail, along with Kennedy, who is facing two misdemeanor charges and is being held in lieu of $1,000 bail.

Tarpon Springs police Capt. Jeffrey P. Young said the investigation is continuing, with assistance from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Forensics Unit, the State Attorney's Office and the county Medical Examiner's Office.