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Man, 21, found guilty of lesser murder charge

Rodney Stafford didn't intend to kill his 17-year-old victim, the jury decides.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2000


LARGO -- Rodney Stafford took the stand in his first-degree murder trial Thursday and swore that what prosecutors called a "fairy tale" was the unblemished truth.

He fired seven shots from a 9mm handgun to frighten, not to kill.

After more than two hours of deliberations, a jury decided the October 1998 shooting death of Eric Gaye, a junior at St. Petersburg High School, wasn't a premeditated act. They found 21-year-old Stafford guilty of second-degree murder.

Circuit Judge Dee Anna Farnell will sentence Stafford on March 29. He faces 27 years to life in prison.

Gaye, a 17-year-old father-to-be, was shot to death at about 2 a.m. as he waited for food at a takeout window outside Red's Snak Shak on 16th Street S in St. Petersburg.

He wasn't even the intended target of Stafford's bullets, prosecutors said.

Stafford, a former Dixie Hollins High School student from Kenneth City, had gotten into an argument with another teen outside the fast-food restaurant.

Stafford testified that he got his gun and returned to the restaurant, intent on putting a scare into Sharrod Devell Holmes, then 19, with whom he had argued.

As Gaye arrived to order fried gizzards and onion rings, Stafford drove by, extended a gun out the car window and fired seven shots into a crowd of about 10 people.

Although Stafford testified he intended to shoot into the ground to frighten Holmes, two shots hit Gaye, who died a short time later of massive internal hemorrhaging. He was two months shy of his 18th birthday.

A 19-year-old St. Petersburg woman also suffered a minor foot injury. Holmes was not hit.

On Thursday, after Stafford apologized to Gaye's family from the witness stand, prosecutor Bill Loughery told jurors, "He's a day late and a dollar short."

"It's so stupid, it's so silly, it's such a tragedy," Loughery said. "He wouldn't go fight the guy. He'd rather go shoot him out of a car."

Jurors also found Stafford guilty of two counts of attempted second-degree murder -- one charge for the shot that hit the woman and the other for the shot toward Holmes.

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