Man gets life sentence in fatal shooting

Published March 30, 2007

CLEARWATER - Shawntrell Church, convicted Wednesday of fatally shooting a St. Petersburg grocery store owner during a small-dollar robbery, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors urged the death penalty for Church, 22, who had been found guilty of first-degree murder. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Linda Allan accepted the jury's recommendation of life.

"Knowing that he's locked up forever, he can't hurt anyone else, it's justice enough," Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser said.

In asking Church's life be spared, one of his aunts testified that her nephew did not have a close relationship with his mother or father.

Church was 18 in February 2003 when he walked into Watson's Food Town on Fifth Avenue N in St. Petersburg, shot Muhammad Haider, then stole a small amount of money.

The 49-year-old merchant was known as a kind businessman who gave diapers and formula to mothers short on money and offered odd jobs to homeless people. His widow, Parvin Haider, testified that her husband kept change in wrappers under the register. Church's fingerprint was found on one of the wrappers, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors told jurors the death penalty was justified because Church committed the murder during a crime for financial gain and also threatened violence during another robbery.

Church robbed the GTE Federal Credit Union on 38th Avenue N four days after Mr. Haider was killed, Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery told jurors.

Church passed a note to tellers, prosecutors said, that warned to do as he instructed or "Boom, boom, boom."

"This isn't an isolated situation" where a robbery just happened to go bad, Loughery said.

Church first was tried and convicted on the bank robbery and sentenced to 30 years. Thursday, defense attorney Richard Watts asked jurors to hand down a sentence in the murder case that would be more proportionate to the penalty given Church's accomplice.

Demetria Lloyd, 35, who drove Church to the grocery store, received 15 years for second-degree murder.

Church's unstable upbringing was not an excuse for his crime, Watts told jurors, but it could help them understand his troubled background.

"He was the lost boy that never recovered," Watts said.

Jose Cardenas can be reached at 727 445-4224 or jcardenas@sptimes.com.