Story of home invasion was phony, police say
A sleeping man died when a bullet came through his ceiling. It was an accident.
By JACOB H. FRIES, Times Staff Writer
Published November 17, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - The story Anthony Kelly told police seemed plausible. Masked men busted in his door, demanded money and, during a struggle, fired a shot into the floor. Tragically, the errant bullet hit and killed a 70-year-old man sleeping in the apartment below.
Kelly's account, in fact, sounded enough like another home invasion robbery six days earlier that detectives wondered whether the two cases could be connected.
"But this one, as you dug into it, started to unravel," said Sgt. Mike Kovacsev, the head of the department's homicide unit.
Now, a year and a half later, police say Kelly, 22, concocted the entire story.
There were no masked men. Rather, it was Kelly's own friend, John Alexie Felicie, 21, who fired the fateful shot that killed Robert Lee Davis, police said. Davis was an usher and janitor at Macedonia Free Will Baptist Church and delivered papers for the St. Petersburg Times.
On Friday, Felicie, who already was in the Pinellas County Jail on unrelated drug charges, was charged with manslaughter and illegal possession of a firearm. Kelly, meanwhile, is serving 20 years in state prison for violating his probation related to a 2003 shooting. He has not been charged in Davis' death.
Before they could find who was responsible, detectives first had to learn what really happened inside Kelly's apartment at 4642 19th Ave S.
"This is not one of those typical cases," Kovacsev said. "It has turns that you just don't see."
On May 20, 2006, Kelly called police to his apartment. He said he opened his front door when someone knocked, and two men forced their way inside.
"There was a dude with a mask rushing in. He was telling me to get down, 'Where's the money at?'" Kelly told a Times reporter then.
Kelly said he and the man stumbled backward over a table, onto the couch, and wrestled. The other robber guarded the door.
"When the gun went off, everything happened so quick," Kelly said.
The robbers ran off empty-handed.
It could have happened that way, Kovacsev said, but detectives who went to the apartment had some doubts from the beginning. Kelly's apartment was torn apart, as though burglars had come in and thoroughly tossed the apartment in search of something. A home invasion robbery, like the one Kelly described, typically lasts only minutes, the robbers in and out, Kovacsev said.
Then another hole: Kelly gave police a mask, which he said he pulled from one of the assailants. Detectives checked it. They found only Kelly's DNA.
The case grew cold. "Things just sputtered out," Kovacsev said.
And that's how it stayed until September, when police arrested someone who told them they should take another look at the case. Kovacsev wouldn't identify the person, but said that person led detectives to other people who were at Kelly's apartment at the time of the shooting.
Eventually, police say, the truth emerged:
Felicie came to Kelly's apartment and was showing him a handgun when it went off, firing one round into the floor. Afterward, the men went downstairs to check on Davis.
Kelly's mother, who knew Davis, would later say he had recommended the upstairs apartment to her son, saying it would be a good place for the young man to raise his family.
When Kelly and Felicie entered his apartment, they found Davis in bed. He was dead. The bullet had struck him in the temple.
The men, on probation and fearful of getting in trouble, came up with the story blaming masked men, police say. Neither Kelly nor Felicie would talk with detectives when questioned recently.
But Kelly, days after the shooting, talked to a reporter about Davis.
"He was a really nice man," he said. "He would help you even if it would hurt him."
Jacob H. Fries can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8872.