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Lawyer: Defendant was 'set up'

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001


TAMPA -- As his murder trial began Monday, Earl "E.J." Hinson was not disputing what happened to a pizza delivery man who walked up to a Carrollwood home last May.

Hinson, then 21, shot the delivery man in the back of the head.

But Hinson's defense lawyer argued Monday that the former "model student" at Tampa Catholic had been forced into the robbery by an older friend, Harold Wolf, then 27.

"Wolf did everything he could to set E.J. up," attorney Matthew Farmer said in opening statements.

The shooting of Eduardo Natal, 23, a driver for Windy City Pizza in Carrollwood, happened by accident, Farmer said.

"Mr. Hinson did not mean to kill Mr. Natal," he said.

Hinson placed the blame on Wolf on Monday; Wolf is expected to blame Hinson on Wednesday when Wolf goes on trial on charges of first-degree murder and robbery.

Both men each face a second trial on charges that they shot the co-owner of the Loop Pizza Grill in Carrollwood and then tried to kill a 16-year-old working at the restaurant the morning after Natal's slaying.

In court, prosecutors described how Hinson called Windy City Pizza at 10:31 p.m. on a cell phone and ordered a pizza for 14037 Wolcott Drive. Hinson's family used to live at the address.

When the delivery man arrived, prosecutors said, Hinson shot him in the back of the head at close range without warning.

"Mr. Natal did not know what was coming, and did not see what was coming," Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said.

Next, Hinson drove Natal's 1997 white Kia Sephia to the Bay Water apartment complex on W Waters Avenue, where Hinson's father lives. Hinson left a pizza heating bag on the top of the car.

A neighbor saw it and called police. In a trash bin nearby, deputies found bloody pizza boxes and latex gloves. The blood was Natal's, and the gloves contained traces of Hinson's DNA.

Later during questioning by deputies, Hinson confessed to shooting Natal, but he said the gun went off by accident.

"Accident or not," Pruner said, "Natal is dead."

Hinson's trial is expected to conclude today. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

- David Karp may be contacted at (813) 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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