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Two found dead behind stores

The man and his pregnant girlfriend were last heard from on Thursday.

By Nicole Hutcheson and Stephanie Garry, Times Staff Writers
Published February 23, 2008


ST. PETERSBURG - Jabar McNair lost sight in his left eye after he tumbled from a building as a child.

As a young adult, he faced trouble with the law, including an unresolved cocaine charge. And he was scheduled to be a star witness against the person who shot him three times last year.

On Thursday, hard times struck again - and this time it was fatal.

St. Petersburg police officers found McNair and his pregnant girlfriend, Mishell McDaniel, 19, shot to death and burned Friday morning. Police believe the couple were shot elsewhere and left inside a late-model Ford Expedition parked behind Loraine's Hair Academy, located at 1012 58th St. N in Tyrone Gardens Shopping center.

Friday morning, detectives and forensic investigators swarmed the usually quiet shopping center piecing together the last hours of the couple's life and trying to figure out who would want them dead.

"We do know that the man has a criminal history and drug history," said Bill Proffitt, a St. Petersburg police spokesman. "That is one angle we are exploring in the investigation, but it's not the only angle."

McNair was supposed to be a lead witness in a case against the man who is accused of shooting him three times in October, according to his mother, Valorie McNair-Gordon, and his defense attorney Michael Boyle. They believe he was afraid to testify. They said the October shooting, which forced him to walk with a cane, wasn't drug-related.

St. Petersburg police wouldn't comment on his status as a witness or whether it played a role in his death.

The couple was discovered about 8 a.m., when Sherry O'Brien, a stylist at Loraine's Academy, went behind the building to the trash bin area. She saw the red SUV and found it suspicious.

"It was a strange place to park," said Kathyrn Blankenship Alvarez, director and co-owner of Loraine's.

O'Brien saw the driver's side window was shot out and there was blood on the ground. Inside, she could see what appeared to be a woman's leg. She was wearing a skirt and a black Converse tennis shoe.

O'Brien called the police.

Investigators say the victims were shot in the area of Fifth Avenue and 45th Street late Thursday afternoon.

"Several neighbors heard a gunshot at that location," Proffitt said. "Another witness saw a maroon-colored sport utility vehicle leaving the alley. We're fairly certain both were shot in the alley."

The SUV belonged to McNair's mother, who said he borrowed it to go to Best Buy and never came back.

Shirley McDaniel, Mishell's mother, said she received a call just after 5 p.m. from a family member saying Mishell's purse had been found near 45th Street. Calls to Mishell's cell phone went unanswered. McDaniel then called the police, she said.

McNair and McDaniel met through mutual friends while McDaniel was attending Gibbs High School. After graduation last year, the couple broke up while McDaniel spent four months in North Carolina with an uncle. When she returned, they got back together.

McNair's legal troubles didn't seem to worry McDaniel's mother.

"He was alright. He really cared about her," she said. "We got along; she really liked him."

McNair criminal history includes drug possession, resisting arrest and fleeing an officer. Most recently he was arrested for selling crack cocaine. Records show he pleaded not guilty in the case, which was set to go to trial March 5.

Boyle, his defense attorney, said police didn't have enough evidence for the charge and originally identified another suspect in the undercover case.

"He's not the guy that he looks like on paper," Boyle said.

When McNair was 8, he fell from a second-story hotel walkway and went blind in his left eye. McNair's family won a personal injury settlement that they hoped would pay for college. He received $300,000 when he turned 18 and went on a spending spree. When he ran out of money, McNair wanted to maintain the lifestyle, his mother said.

McNair-Gordon said the family tried twice to turn him around, but Mishell's pregnancy was the first thing that truly gave them hope he could start a new chapter.

"He was very excited about it, very happy. He asked me a bunch of questions about it, asking me what to do," McNair-Gordon said. "I guess it wasn't enough."

McDaniel found out she was pregnant in January. She planned to attend nursing school after she gave birth.

"She was excited," McDaniel said. "She was young, but she had accepted it."

Tenants and shoppers at the Tyrone Gardens Shopping Center were shocked to learn of the murder. They have had their share of crime - mostly children vandalizing cars and spraying graffiti. Sometimes people dump things behind the building.

"This is not the type of place to bring this type of crime," said Alvarez, who has owned the hair academy for more than 20 years.

Shirley McDaniel was in shock, too.

"It's unreal," she said. "You see your baby one day at 4:30 p.m., and then you never see your baby again.

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or 727893-8828. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.