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Police say killing might have been a mistake

The victim "may just be a victim of circumstance,'' an officer says. Police are asking for help from the public.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Shkira Neal, the 18-year-old mother fatally shot in bed earlier this month, may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Homicide detectives are investigating whether Neal was mistaken for another woman who stays at the home where the double shooting occurred.

"She may just be a victim of circumstance," said Sgt. Mike Puetz.

Detectives appealed to the public Tuesday for help in identifying the two or three men who broke into 10001/2 11th Ave. S at 11:12 p.m. Nov. 4.

Neal was staying at the home of her friend, Willie Joe Baker, 31, who is in critical condition at an undisclosed hospital. His mother said he was shot seven times.

When she was shot, Neal was lying in bed. The gunmen shot her multiple times with a handgun and shotgun, police said. She was dead at the scene.

"It was pretty brutal," Puetz said.

Before the shooting, Neal spent the evening with friends Shayla Barber, 17, and Ariel Towns, 17. Neal left Towns' house with Baker about 11 p.m. Shortly after the couple arrived at Baker's home, the gunmen broke in and began shooting. Police have dusted for fingerprints and removed the front door as evidence.

This year, 15 people have been slain in St. Petersburg.

Detectives do not have a motive in Neal's death. They interviewed the woman who usually stays at Baker's house but declined to identify her or elaborate on why someone would want her dead.

"The way we understand it, the sole intent was to commit murder," Puetz said.

Police also questioned Baker, who worked as a cook at Kissin' Cuzzins, 7100 Fourth St. N.

"I don't believe it's drug-related," said case Detective Cindy Leedy.

Baker's mother, Jaunita Johnson, said she is at a loss. Neighbors have told her the men who broke into in her son's house wore masks.

"I've been trying to figure it out," she said. "Maybe the girl was a witness for a crime that happened in this city."

Neal's family members could not be reached Tuesday. Her two children, Nicholas Pennywell, 1, and Otis Pennywell, who will turn 2 in December, lived with either Neal or their father, Otis Lee Pennywell Jr., who also lives in St. Petersburg. Pennywell, 18, could not be reached.

Leedy asked that anyone with information about the killing call (727) 893-7613.

Said Leedy: "If I lived in that neighborhood, I'd want these people in jail."

- Leanora Minai covers crime and can be reached at (727) 893-8406 or by e-mail at minai@sptimes.

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