2 decades after woman's murder, man faces death
By ROBERT FARLEY
TARPON SPRINGS -- Nearly 25 years have passed since the random murder of 68-year-old Natalie Brady of Tarpon Springs.
That was March 18, 1977. On July 8 of that year, a jury convicted Amos Lee King of raping and murdering Mrs. Brady after escaping from the Tarpon Springs Work Release Center. Jurors also recommended he be put to death.
For more than 24 years, King, now 47, has spent his days in a 9- by 6-foot cell on Florida's death row. No one else from Pinellas County has lived longer on death row.
On Monday, Gov. Jeb Bush signed death warrants for three condemned murderers. King was one of them. The appointed hour of his execution is 6 p.m. Jan. 24.
"It's about time," said Abe Tarapani, summing up the feeling of many Tarpon Springs residents who are outraged at the delay.
Despite the passage of time, for many family and friends of Mrs. Brady, the pain is still fresh, the venom still strong.
"This man needs to burn to a crisp for what he did to her," said former Tarpon Springs Mayor Anita Protos. "It's been too long in coming. He should not have been shown any mercy to last this long."
Natalie Brady, known to many as "Tillie", came from an old Tarpon Springs family. She was described as a well-liked Christian woman, a widow who lived alone in a one-story house at the end of Brady Road.
"He (King) hurt one of Tarpon's family," Protos said.
For Eva Lysek, 78, of St. Petersburg, one of Mrs. Brady's two surviving sisters, the pain is still very raw.
"I want him behind bars for the rest of his life," Lysek said of King. "As for the death penalty, that's beyond me. It's more than I can take. My concern is that I don't have a sister."
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times in 1996, King, maintained he is innocent.
Lysek doesn't buy it.
"I know he did it, and there's no two ways about it," Lysek said. "He was the one. I sat through all of the trial and I listened to all of it. He was the one who did it."
On St. Patrick's Day 1977, King was 22 years old and serving time in Tarpon for a parole violation. He had a work-release job washing dishes at a Clearwater restaurant during the day. Prosecutors said that night King escaped from the facility and then went to the nearby home of Mrs. Brady, who lived alone. He raped, choked and stabbed her and then set fire to her house. He was then spotted by corrections officer James "Dan" McDonough trying to get back into the correctional facility. The two struggled and McDonough was stabbed 24 times.
King fled, but he turned himself in to authorities the following day.
Blaine LeCouris, who was the Tarpon Springs police chief in 1977, said the murder made for a very trying chapter in Tarpon Springs history.
LeCouris, a proponent of the work release program, said many residents opposed the location of the minimum security corrections facility, where inmates work during the day outside the facility and return at night.
"We need these facilities, but no one wants them near them," LeCouris said. "In counties as close as Pinellas County, there's nowhere you can put them where they aren't around someone."
Mrs. Brady's murder reignited the debate.
LeCouris, father of current police chief Mark LeCouris, noted that while Tarpon Springs police were first on the scene that night, the correctional facility is located in an unincorporated area just north of Tarpon Springs. But Mrs. Brady was well-known in the Tarpon community.
"She was a good friend of mine," LeCouris said. "She was like a mother to a bunch of us. A better woman never lived. She was just a kind woman."
Tempers ran high after King's arrest, he said.
"We almost would've killed him ourselves if we could've got ahold of him," LeCouris said. "He took the life of a sweet, innocent lady."
In July, King was tried in what was thought to be the first televised trial in Florida. The all-white jury took just 31/2 hours to convict King of first-degree murder, sexual battery, arson and burglary. The jury later recommended he get death, and Judge John "Jack" Andrews sentenced him to death.
While the jury's verdict was swift, the appeals have been anything but. In fact, two previous governors have signed a warrant for King's execution. But both times, it was delayed.
Perhaps the biggest delay came as a result of a 1983 ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that King's counsel was ineffective during the penalty phase of his trial. The appeals court ordered a new penalty phase hearing.
Although the penalty was later upheld, it allowed King to begin his appeals process all over again, said Carol Dittmar, the assistant attorney general handling the King case.
"It's a frustrating process for everybody," Dittmar said.
Now, however, King's appeal options may be quickly dwindling, she said.
"He basically has exhausted all of his appeals," Dittmar said.
Maybe not, said Peter Cannon, an attorney with Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, which is now representing King.
"We will pursue all appeal angles," Cannon said. "That's what we do."
Elizabeth Palmer of Tarpon Springs, a friend of Mrs. Brady's, said the length of the appeals angers her.
"This was a cut-and-dry case," Palmer said. "This should have been done two days after they caught him. It's hideous what he did to that lady. And (the execution) is way past due. It doesn't seem fair sometimes. I will never understand it."
The scars in Tarpon Springs may never heal, she said.
"It was an absolute shock that something like this could happen," Palmer said.
"I go back to the day before this happened and think how peaceful it was," LeCouris said. "Here was a hardworking woman who lived alone, and he killed her."
-- Times staff writer Craig Pittman and researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.
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