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Jurors believed the suspect's sister and a bouncer who said he was involved in the crime.
By DAVID KARP
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001
TAMPA -- The murder case hung on the word of a bouncer at a nude club who had admitted involvement in the crime.
That's what Assistant Public Defender Harvey Hyman argued to a jury Friday as they decided whether Alexa Blair Bennett had killed a 47-year-old man in May 1999.
"Did anyone believe anything he had to say before he even said it?" Hyman asked about the testimony of William Terry Houston, a former bouncer and manager at 2001 Odyssey in Tampa.
Apparently, the jury did.
After deliberating for about four hours, the jury found Bennett, 27, a nude dancer, guilty of first-degree murder.
Moments later, Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe sentenced Bennett to life in prison, a mandatory sentence.
Bennett's family wept in the courtroom as Bennett, poised in a dark brown suit, sat still.She declined to address the judge when asked if she had anything to say.
Relatives of Lamar Fitzpatrick, 47, hugged Assistant State Attorney Chris Moody and thanked him after the verdict.
Prosecutors said Bennett shot Fitzpatrick in the head because he owed her $17,000. Witnesses said Bennett gave him the money to fund a loan sharking operation, but he spent it at the dog track instead.
Bennett's sister, Elisabeth, testified against her, describing how Bennett dumped Fitzpatrick's truck in a trailer park and cleaned blood off her hand. Houston said Bennett asked him to drag the victim's body into bushes by the Hillsborough River.
Houston later helped Bennett clean blood from her car and later scrap the vehicle at a metal recycling company. Houston also held on to the murder weapon, a handgun that he owned.
"The case rises and falls on Terry Houston," Hyman argued, as he tried to discredit Houston's testimony. In interviews after the trial, jurors said they believed Houston's testimony because cell phone records and other evidence backed it up.
They also believed Elisabeth Bennett, who broke into sobs on the stand.
"There really wasn't a reason for Elisabeth to lie," juror Kendall Duncan said.
"She was her sister. She loved her very much. You could tell she did not want to be there, and did not want to be testifying to what she was testifying to."
"Everyone left there with a heavy heart," Duncan added, "because no one wants to believe this could happen."