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    Indictments unsealed in 9-year-old's murder

    The charges are based on jail inmates' accounts, DNA and other evidence.

    By CHASE SQUIRES and CARY DAVIS

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 30, 2001


    DADE CITY -- Nine-year-old Sharra Ferger, under brutal attack from a family friend and a man she knew as "Uncle Gary," repeatedly called out her uncle's name, a jail house informer told investigators.

    To silence her cries, her uncle, Gary Elishi Cochran, stabbed her in the head, according to details of an investigation released Friday.

    The information about the 1997 killing was disclosed when a circuit judge unsealed indictments charging Gary Steven Cannon, 20, and Cochran, 35, with first-degree murder.

    The charges are based on the accounts of four jail inmates, DNA evidence that links hairs found on Sharra's body to Cannon, grass stains and blood on a borrowed shirt, and a bite mark on the girl's body that matches Cochran's teeth, according to documents.

    Pasco County sheriff's Sgt. John Corbin wrote in the five-page affidavit accompanying the indictment that Cannon confessed to fellow Pasco County jail inmate Randy Kernan in 1999.

    "Cannon told Kernan that "they' (apparently referring to his accomplice) knew that the police had arrested the wrong guy for Ferger's murder and figured it was only a matter of time until the police figured that out and focused on them," Corbin wrote. He also wrote that Cannon said Cochran "stabbed the girl (Sharra) in the head because she kept calling his name and pleading."

    Cannon and Cochran were high on ecstasy and crack cocaine during the killing, Corbin wrote.

    Kernan, one of four inmates listed as witnesses, has served prison time for aggravated assault and driving with a suspended license.

    From the start, investigators suspected Sharra had opened the front door to her house in the predawn hours of Oct. 3, 1997, to someone she knew and trusted.

    Cannon was a family friend, Corbin reported. Sharra's mother said the girl knew Cochran as "Uncle Gary."

    Corbin wrote that Cochran showed one inmate a photograph of a young girl while in jail, saying it was his niece and he had raped and killed her. He told two other inmates that he didn't mean to kill her and he didn't want to go back to prison.

    "Cochran, after repeatedly lying to investigators about his knowledge of the crime and his whereabouts at the time of Ferger's murder, made admissions acknowledging that he had indeed made the bite mark," Corbin wrote.

    Forensic dentist Lowell Levine of the New York State Police told Corbin a bite mark found on Sharra's left shoulder matched impressions of Cochran's teeth that he gave days after Sharra's neighbor, Dale Morris, was wrongly accused of the crime.

    Those same teeth marks were attributed to Morris by two other dentists, but DNA evidence cleared Morris after he spent four months in jail. Morris is suing the county.

    Other physical evidence listed in the affidavit includes hairs found on Sharra's body. DNA tests linked the hairs to Cannon, with the likelihood they belong to someone else listed at 1 in 172-million.

    Other listed evidence includes accounts of Cannon's friends, who told investigators Cannon borrowed a car the night of the attack and wore a shirt borrowed from another man. When he returned, the shirt was stained with blood and grass, and a knife he had borrowed had been lost.

    Both Cannon and Cochran have denied involvement in interviews with the St. Petersburg Times.

    Sharra's body was found in a field near her home in the Blanton community of east Pasco County, naked from the waist down. She had been raped and stabbed 46 times. At least two weapons, a knife and possibly a screwdriver, were used. Six stab wounds perforated the girl's skull.

    Cochran and Cannon remained in separate, out-of-county prisons Friday.

    Cannon is serving a 15-year sentence is at the Wakulla Correctional Institution for beating and robbing a 70-year-old man. He is scheduled for release in 2014.

    Cochran is serving a five-year term at the Sumter Correctional Institution for burglarizing a house. He is scheduled for release in March 2004.

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