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Man who sold rifle used in girl's killing is spared prison
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 1999
LARGO -- George Harvell's parents made it clear to their son that second chances shouldn't be squandered. The 20-year-old, charged with selling a semiautomatic rifle to a self-avowed skinhead who used it to kill a 6-year-old girl, isn't going to prison.
Harvell's parents say their son now must prove he is worthy of probation.
"He knows full well it will be his decision on a day-to-day basis to stay the course he chooses," said Harvell's father, Allen Harvell. "The ramifications of poor judgment will be on his shoulders, not ours."
Harvell pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge that he sold a rifle to a minor. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Brandt Downey III sentenced him to 30 months' probation and withheld a formal finding of guilt.
Harvell, who turns 20 today, sold a Chinese semiautomatic rifle to friend Jessy Joe Roten, then 17, in March for $300. A month later, after a fight with his girlfriend, Roten went into an alley near his Lealman-area home just north of St. Petersburg.
Police say Roten fired at least 12 rounds from the gun, one of which pierced the nearby home of Terry Mance, who is black, and his fiancee, who is white.
The single bullet killed Ashley Mance and wounded her twin sister, Aleesha, and their 4-year-old half-sister, Jailene Jones.
Prosecutors say Roten's actions were racially motivated. Charged with a hate crime, Roten awaits a January trial on charges of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder.
Prosecutor Bill Loughery and Downey agree that the disposition of the case against Harvell is standard for the third-degree felony, which is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison.
Harvell has no prior adult record of felonies, has cooperated with authorities and agreed to testify against Roten.
Prosecutors do not believe that Harvell had any involvement in or prior knowledge of the shooting.
"He certainly chose the wrong person to sell a combat rifle to," Loughery said. "Roten was a ticking time bomb, and something bad was bound to happen. But there was no evidence he knew what was going to happen."
Loughery asked the judge to impose four years' probation. But the prosecutor did not object when Downey instead gave Harvell 30 months.
Harvell, whose lawyer said he once shared some of the same racist views as Roten, agreed as a condition of his probation that he would not associate with any hate groups.
And Harvell agreed he wouldn't touch any weapons during probation. In fact, since Harvell will live with his parents in St. Petersburg, his father agreed to keep his own weapons out of the house.
Harvell declined to comment. The Mances, who did not attend Harvell's sentencing, moved out of St. Petersburg after the shooting and could not be reached for comment.
Allen Harvell said his son has turned his life around. The former high school dropout is now attending junior college. He also said his son no longer associates with his former circle of racist friends and is remorseful about his actions.
His lawyer said Harvell no longer holds the racist views he once did. Harvell was shown crime scene photos of the victim, which his father said affected Harvell greatly.
"This has all been a very strong dose of reality for him," said his father, who is an area bank executive. "He had an emotional reaction that deeply bothered him."
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.
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