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    Jury: Lutz man guilty in stabbing death of airman

    The 24-year-old felon could face a life sentence for killing a visiting serviceman in Ybor City.

    By BILL COATS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


    TAMPA -- A jury convicted a Lutz man Tuesday of fatally stabbing a visiting serviceman during a bar fight in Ybor City.

    Mike Fuqua, a 24-year-old repeat felon, is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder. His attorney said he would appeal.

    The March 14 killing may long be remembered in Tampa for the sight, captured on a bystander's videotape, of Fuqua running down Seventh Avenue away from Jeremiah "Jeff" Kleiss, 22, who is pulling up his pale blue shirt to see where he has been stabbed. Police distributed the tape to news media in a successful effort to identify Fuqua.

    On Tuesday, Fuqua's jurors asked for a television set almost immediately after beginning deliberations, apparently to review the tape more. The day before, prosecutor Jim Shoemaker harped on the tape in his final argument, noting a sequence in which Fuqua faced off with Kleiss, appeared to open a knife, then moved quickly past Kleiss with his arm outstretched.

    The jury convicted Fuqua of second-degree murder after about three hours of deliberations.

    The decision provoked instant weeping along a row of Fuqua's relatives. Fuqua sat stoically for a minute. Then he rested his head on his hands, his face flushed, crying. Tears also flowed among a large group of Kleiss' relatives, who came to Tampa from Illinois and other states for the five-day trial.

    "I think the right person is behind bars," said Kleiss' 48-year-old father, Raymond Kleiss of Clinton, Ill. "God forbid if the same person was out there doing this over and over again."

    Kleiss also used an impromptu press conference on the courthouse steps to share the pain felt by his family, in which Jeff Kleiss was the fifth of seven children.

    "It doesn't enter your mind that one of your children will never grow up," he said.

    Fuqua's sentencing was set for Dec. 15.

    But prosecutors invoked a state law applying to recently released prison inmates, which they said virtually guaranteed a life sentence with no parole.

    Fuqua had been out of prison only nine months, following a robbery sentence, when he stabbed Kleiss, an Air Force airman from Charleston, S.C., visiting Tampa during spring break.

    - Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 226-3469 or coats@sptimes.com.

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