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Prosecution tells its side

The state plays a taped confession obtained from Steele's cousin.

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published April 24, 2007


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photo
[Pool photo]
Sheriff's forensic investigator Denice Weigand holds up the shirt that Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison was wearing when he was shot. Weigand collected evidence at the crime scene in 2003.

DADE CITY - The voice came out of the past. It sounded young and shaky and frightened.

"Mr. BoBo, forgive me for what I done," said a 19-year-old Alfredie Steele Jr., sobbing and gasping for breath as tape rolled.

Now 23 and on trial for the murder of a beloved sheriff's deputy, Steele sat stoically in court Monday as his taped confession played.

Behind him, the family of "Mr. BoBo" - Pasco sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison - unleashed their own grief. Lydia Harrison, the deputy's ex-wife, held and rocked her oldest daughter, Sandy, 34. The youngest, 23-year-old Michelle, broke down and tried to leave the courtroom but was stopped and consoled by her brother, Charles Jr.

Steele did not turn around.

Prosecutors say Steele was distraught over the deaths of several friends when he took an SKS rifle out into the woods near Lacoochee the night of May 31, 2003, to shoot. Then he went to Rumors nightclub, where he got drunk, and upon leaving spotted a sheriff's cruiser parked across U.S. 301.

In meetings with detectives, Steele said he fired at the patrol car to scare someone but didn't mean to kill.

Steele's trial, which opened officially April 16, began in earnest Monday. He could get the death penalty if convicted.

In his opening argument, Assistant State Attorney Bob Lewis gave jurors a narrative of the night Harrison died.

"Who could have done this? Why would anybody shoot Bo Harrison?" Lewis said. "Well, that man right there confessed to shooting Bo Harrison. He said he used an SKS."

The defense deferred its opening statement until the state rests its case.

The emotional recording played Monday came from an unlikely source: Nathaniel Vanzant, Steele's cousin, who was called to testify for the state.

On the tape, Vanzant began by telling Steele to "just talk regular."

For four minutes, Steele searched for the words to apologize for "something f------ up, terrible."

He said he had been stressed out and didn't mean to kill Harrison.

He ended saying, "Mr. BoBo, I'm sorry. God bless your soul."

Vanzant's appearance, which followed dry, technical testimony of investigators and deputies, bore straight into the heart of the case that gripped the Lacoochee community nearly four years ago.

The death of Harrison, the first officer killed on duty in Pasco in nearly a century, launched a furious search for his killer. Soon, dozens of deputies were staked out at Steele's mother's house.

At first, they were looking for Vanzant.

But Vanzant directed them to his cousin, saying Steele had lurched home drunk after the shooting and described what he'd done.

Two days after the shooting, with an audience of detectives, Steele first admitted to firing the rifle and in a later interview told his whole story of shooting at Harrison's patrol car.

It was between those two meetings with detectives, inside a small trailer in Lacoochee, that Vanzant recorded Steele.

"He said he was going to apologize for what he did," Vanzant testified.

Tom Hanlon, Steele's public defender, tried to discredit Vanzant's version and even refocus suspicion on Vanzant himself.

Vanzant acknowledged he wanted to make the recording to help clear his own name.

"If you didn't do anything why would you have to clear your name?" Hanlon asked.

"When that many people come with rifles," Vanzant replied. "I didn't know you need that many rifles to talk to anyone, anyway."

Vanzant also said he told Steele he would give the recording to Harrison's family.

Did he? Hanlon asked.

Vanzant: "I gave it to my lawyer."

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

Fast Facts:

 

More coverage

Hard facts and raw emotions converge in the case of "that man." Opinion, Page 2

For updates from the Steele trial, visit tampabay.com.

[Last modified April 24, 2007, 00:08:49]


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