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2nd day of trial filled with Steele's voice

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published April 25, 2007


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Audio report:
Two days after the slaying of Pasco Sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison, Alfredie Steele Jr., with the help of his cousin Nathaniel Vanzant, recorded an apology to Harrison's family. Warning: This unedited, four-minute recording contains profanity and offensive language. Click to listen.

DADE CITY - Four times on Tuesday, jurors heard the voice of the man accused of killing Pasco Sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison.

As each tape played in court, Alfredie Steele Jr.'s own words piled onto the mounting evidence against him.

Prosecutors unveiled two videotapes of detectives interviewing Steele the morning of his arrest on June 3, 2003. Then, they played recordings of phone calls he made days later from the Sumter County jail.

Steele, 23, faces the death penalty if convicted in the sniper-style slaying of Harrison, the first deputy killed on duty in Pasco in more than 80 years.

In opening statements Monday, prosecutor Bob Lewis said Steele took an SKS rifle into the woods late on May 31, 2003, to shoot some rounds and relieve stress. He was angry over the deaths of three friends that year. Then, Lewis said, he went to Rumors nightclub, where he binged on alcohol. When he left, he saw a sheriff's cruiser parked near the highway. He parked, got out, fired at the car and ran, Lewis told the 12-member jury.

On Tuesday, the panel heard that story from Steele himself.

In an early-morning interview, Steele told sheriff's Detective Jeffrey Bousquet the first half. It ended with him admitting to firing the rifle.

A detective drove Steele home to Lacoochee, but later that morning he called back ready to talk. In the second video, Steele sits slouched at a small table with Detective Jim Medley. Following a meticulous explanation of his Miranda rights, Steele tells his whole story.

He walks Medley through the events of the night, breaking down crying when he mentions Harrison, a lifelong friend he knew by a nickname.

"I didn't mean to kill that man," Steele says, weeping. "I didn't mean to kill Mr. BoBo.

"Sorry, Mr. BoBo."

Tom Hanlon, Steele's public defender, questioned Medley on details that could indicate whether Steele intended to kill Harrison. Intent is a critical element of first-degree murder.

"He told you that he didn't know anybody was in the car, didn't he?" Hanlon asked.

"Yes," Medley said.

"He told you he didn't mean to hurt anybody, didn't he?" Hanlon asked.

"Yes," Medley said.

Jailed in Sumter County on June 15, Steele called his mother Regina Clemmons. She tells him to keep his head up and, without being specific, asks if a friend named Skipper was with him. He says no.

Clemmons: "Fredie, I hope you ain't trying to sit back and protect somebody that ain't give a damn about you."

Steele's reply: "No, he wasn't with me. Wasn't nobody with me."

In another call the same night, Steele talked to an unidentified female friend. Deep into the conversation, the two are talking about Nathaniel Vanzant, Steele's cousin who was once the prime suspect in the case.

"He didn't do it," Steele says. "I done it. You know what I mean? ... He wasn't even there. He was at home asleep."

Over heated objections from Steele's attorneys, Senior Circuit Judge Robert Beach allowed jurors to see a photo of Steele found during a raid on a house in Lacoochee two months before Harrison died. In it, Steele sits on a couch holding an SKS rifle.

But prosecutors can't say that's the rifle used to kill the deputy. That weapon has never been found. In fact, detectives who raided the house where the photo was found also seized an SKS rifle from it.

Hanlon argued the picture isn't relevant.

"They cannot show that this gun in the picture has any tie to this case," he said.

State Attorney Bernie McCabe said the photo shows Steele's familiarity with the kind of gun used in the crime, a gun Steele said he used.

Jurors also heard testimony and evidence from forensics investigators who collected bullet fragments from the crime scene and the wooded area where Steele said he first went shooting.

The state is expected to conclude its case today.

The crowd in the courtroom has grown each day, with more spectators from the tightly-knit community. When the popular Harrison died, the case enveloped Lacoochee, and conspiracy rumors were rampant.

Even the phone conversations played Tuesday echoed the mystery.

Talking to his mother, Steele spoke of one of the rumors: "I'm hoping that what you said was - was true. Because then that make a - that make a whole 'nother investigation."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at (352) 521-6521 or moorhead@sptimes.com

The steele trial

Expected today

The state concludes its case in the trial. The defense will have to decide how to proceed.

ON THE WEB

Times reporters' blog from the courtroom. Visit blogs.tampabay.com/breakingnews/the_steele_trial.

For updates from the Steele trial or to take a look back, visit tampabay.com.

[Last modified April 24, 2007, 23:03:05]


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