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Steele's friends stand by him

Some wonder if he is taking the murder rap for someone else.

By GINA PACE
Published April 29, 2007


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DADE CITY - For the past two weeks, Erica Rivera has sat through nearly every moment of the murder trial of her childhood friend, Alfredie Steele Jr.

Like the jury that on Thursday convicted him of first degree murder, she heard Steele's voice on three taped confessions. Again and again, he admitted to firing the shots that killed Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison in 2003.

But even after the verdict, she's certain he's innocent.

Murder doesn't fit the Fredie she grew up with. The boy who repeatedly told her she was "too good for that stuff" when she started using cocaine at 13. The good-natured guy who gave her brother Rudy some of his best sports jerseys after he heard there was no money to buy him school clothes.

Like Rivera, others at the trial can't reconcile the Fredie they know with the evidence that convinced a jury that he's a murderer. Some say he was too innocent and sweet to do anything so violent. Steele was known around the neighborhood as a "mama's boy" who made honor roll and didn't have a record.

"If I had to pick a list of guys that I think did it, he wouldn't even be one of them, " said Reginald Morgan, 27, a family friend. "I'm a convicted felon. I've seen killers, rapists, drug dealers, and this man does not fall into those categories."

Morgan used to stop by Steele's house every day. He said that Steele had the chance to hang out with him and his friends -- guys who got into trouble - but he never wanted to, choosing more "mellow types" instead

"I don't think he's a killer, " Morgan said. "I don't know if he's taking the rap for someone, but a lot of people think so."

Adam Nelson, a friend Steele visited in Daytona Beach the day after the crime, said he thinks there's more to the story than what came out in the trial.

"I don't know why he confessed, but there is just no way he did this, " Nelson said Friday.

Nelson, who has regularly visited Steele in jail, said Steele doesn't show he's upset in order to keep his friends' spirits up.

"He always wanted to joke with you and bring you up, " Nelson said. "No matter how much it hurt."

For Rivera, Steele's caring nature reinforces her belief in his innocence. She has visited Steele in jail every Thursday since March. She said she looks forward to the visits every week, and stays as long as she can, depending on how lenient the guard is.

He cares about her life, she said, and knows what to say to her when she's upset. Talking to him through that small piece of glass, over a telephone, makes her feel better.

"I'm going to stand by him, " Rivera said.

The verdict won't change that. On Thursday, she'll be at the Sumter County jail for visiting hours.

Gina Pace can be reached at 352 521-6518 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6518. Her e-mail address is gpace@sptimes.com.

[Last modified April 28, 2007, 20:06:23]


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