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    No indictment in murder case

    Defense attorneys supplied witnesses who testified that the suspect was asleep when the crime was committed.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001


    LARGO -- After 17-year-old Anthony Castle was killed by a shot to the head Jan. 13, witnesses saw a heavyset man in a brown jacket running away.

    St. Petersburg police showed mug shots of possible suspects to one eyewitness in particular. That witness identified a man with resolute certainty.

    She identified Larry James Brown Jr. as the killer.

    But not long after St. Petersburg police arrested Brown for first-degree murder, a Pinellas County grand jury last week refused to indict him. It's a rare example of a grand jury rejecting a murder charge filed by police.

    Brown, 20, is still jailed on unrelated drug charges.

    Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger's office found witnesses to support Brown's alibi that he was home sleeping at the time of the shooting.

    And when Dillinger made the witnesses available to State Attorney Bernie McCabe, McCabe's lieutenants called them before the grand jury without hesitation, Dillinger said.

    "If there's evidence that a person is innocent, the grand jury should hear it," Dillinger said. "It saves taxpayers a lot of money, and it's the fair thing to do. The state called the witnesses and let the chips fall where they may. They did the right thing."

    Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett did not close the door on the possibility that his office may yet again seek a grand jury indictment of murder against Brown if more evidence comes to light.

    Since the case is ongoing, prosecutors and police declined to discuss what evidence they presented to the grand jury. Nor would they provide a motive for the shooting just south of 22nd Avenue S.

    Bartlett said his office must present all evidence to a grand jury, whether it hurts or helps their case.

    This is especially important, he said, because the grand jury system does not allow a defendant's attorney to be present, much less call witnesses.

    "From a prosecutor's standpoint, it's very foolish not to have the grand jury consider all the evidence that exists," he said. "Our job is to seek justice, not merely to convict. It's kind of like mom's apple pie."

    But Bartlett said, "I do not agree with the proposition that Mr. Brown is innocent" of the crime. Bartlett would not go into detail about why he thinks Brown was involved in the shooting.

    Dillinger credited one of his investigators, Mickey Romanello, with finding four alibi witnesses who, he said, confirmed Brown was sleeping at the time of the 8:30 p.m. shooting.

    Some of the witnesses had been sought by police but not yet located.

    Brown, who lived at 2219 1/2 Seventh St. S, is jailed awaiting trial on two counts of possessing crack cocaine with the intent to sell and operating a crack house.

    Dillinger's office declined to make him available for an interview.

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