1 shot closes slaying case

No one was ever prosecuted for a killing during a drug deal in 1996.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 15, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG - Some people get away with murder. Some would say Robert Mann was one of them.

Back in 1996, he sold crack cocaine to a sometime roofer named Anthony Small. Instead of paying, Small stuffed a few pieces in his mouth and started pedaling away on a bicycle.

Mann shot and killed him.

All the evidence pointed to Mann as the killer, police said, but there wasn't enough evidence for prosecutors to charge him with the homicide. He ended up doing five years on charges that included aggravated assault, firing into a vehicle, robbery and illegally carrying a gun.

He got out in 2001, but returned for a year in 2004 for grand theft auto.

He was out again in 2005.

Then, about 2:28 a.m. on April 6, 2007, Mann was outside a home in the 2800 block of 16th Avenue S, holding a mixed drink in one hand and a phone in the other. A .357 caliber revolver was tucked inside a belt at his back, along the right side of his body.

Mann, 27, dropped something and crouched, so that his chest was between his legs. The revolver in his shorts turned out to have an abnormally light trigger pull. By bending down, he set it off.

The bullet entered his body through the back of his right thigh and flew out the front of his thigh. Then, because of his crouch, the bullet blasted a hole on the ride side of his chest, about 5 inches below his shoulders. It flew up and punched another hole as it streaked out of his back right shoulder. Next, the bullet entered his neck. It pushed through to his brain, finally coming to a stop just beneath the crown of his head.

Even as police wrapped up their inquiry into Mann's death, the investigation in Anthony Small's murder technically remained open. A few months ago, Sgt. Mike Kovacsev, the head of St. Petersburg's homicide unit, was going through old cases when he realized that Mann, the likely culprit, was dead.

He called Small's family. They said they had heard the news, and thanked him.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.