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Teen accused of supplying gun

The son of bank executives is charged with selling to a minor the rifle believed to have been used in a murder.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 1999

ST. PETERSBURG -- George Harvell told police he paid $232.66 for the Chinese semiautomatic rifle at a gun shop last year and used it for target practice.

He sold it last month for $300 to a 17-year-old friend -- who police say used it to kill a 6-year-old girl as she slept Saturday.

On Wednesday, Harvell, a 19-year-old high school dropout and the son of BankAtlantic executives, was charged with selling the combat weapon to a minor. He turned himself in to Pinellas County sheriff's detectives.

"Selling a gun to a racist -- he should be treated like a felon," said the dead girl's father, Terry Mance.

Police say Jessy Joe Roten, a self-proclaimed skinhead, went into an alley behind his Lealman-area home early Saturday and fired at least 12 rounds from the gun, one of which pierced the nearby home of Mance, who is black, and his fiancee, who is white.

The single bullet killed Ashley Mance and wounded her twin sister, Aleesha, and her 4-year-old half-sister, Jailene Jones.

Harvell's attorney, Jay Hebert, said Harvell was not involved in the shooting.

But Harvell and Roten were friends who shared some of the same views and a penchant for firearms.

"I think that they shared some similar beliefs," said Hebert, though he added his client is not "affiliated" with a skinhead group. He declined to elaborate.

Roten, who police say collected neo-Nazi, racist paraphernalia, is charged with first-degree premediated murder and two counts of attempted murder.

A grand jury will convene April 22 to determine whether Roten should be charged with a hate crime. He is being held in the Pinellas County Juvenile Assessment Center in Largo.

Roten's parents say the shooting was accidental. They say their son was angry after arguing that night with his girlfriend and another friend.

Harvell, who lives in a waterfront home at 2400 Coffee Pot Blvd. in northeast St. Petersburg, was released from Pinellas County Jail after posting $5,000 bail at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

His parents, Allen and Georganne Harvell, did not comment Wednesday. Hebert, who represented Baptist leader Henry J. Lyons, spoke for their son.

Hebert said he received a telephone call on Easter Sunday from Harvell's father, who contacted Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett.

"My client is devastated by the use of this gun," Hebert said. "His family is very upset about what has taken place."

Hebert described the younger Harvell as an avid hunter and fishermen who is protective of his 15-year-old sister, Katherine.

"He did a lot of target shooting," said Hebert.

* * *

Harvell's gun interests led him to Jon Sobel Firearms, 4820 49th St., on May 9, 1998. There, Harvell legally purchased one of the last Norinco rifles, which holds 10 rounds and fires bullets that can pierce armor and travel 2,300 feet per second.

Sobel, the shop owner, said Wednesday that he does not remember Harvell.

"I get so many people who come in," said Sobel, who said he sells guns part time and works during the day at E-Systems Inc.

Sobel said he looked up the "yellow sheet," the federal paperwork required for the sale, and that Harvell was approved.

Details are limited on how the deal with Roten happened. But sheriff's officials and Harvell's attorney said Roten paid Harvell about $300 for the rifle, which was delivered to Roten two weeks ago.

Roten and Harvell had been to a practice range together, and Roten had expressed an interest in the SKS rifle, Hebert said. Roten, who was too young to buy the rifle, asked Harvell to sell him his. Roten turns 18 on May 3, which would make it legal for him to purchase a rifle.

Harvell made a little money on the sale.

"He's a teenager," Hebert said. "I assume he was going to use it to go to the mall and buy Nikes and do whatever teenagers do."

Hebert said Harvell dabbles in repairing cars, received a high school equivalency certificate and works at Durability Inc., 680 30th St. S, where Roten's stepfather works.

Harvell and Roten come from different neighborhoods.

Harvell's family lives in a $300,000 waterfront house in an exclusive neighborhood brightened by brick streets, tidy docks and lush landscaping. A Porsche is parked next door.

Roten and his family live in a blue-collar neighborhood, in a simple house with a bare yard.

Harvell and Roten met at St. Petersburg High School. They were in high school together only during the fall semester of 1996 before both dropped out, principal Tom Petit said.

Roten's mother, Katherine Wooley, says Roten hung out with a group of friends who described themselves as skinheads. The group went target shooting at ranges and partied on weekends. Roten's stepfather said Harvell was one of Roten's friends.

Harvell has been in contact with St. Petersburg police. He was arrested in 1993 on a felony commercial burglary charge.

In July 1997, a St. Petersburg police officer also investigated a fight between Harvell and another teenager, said police spokeswoman Lilla Davis-Mays. Harvell told the officer that a black man beat him up, but the person turned out to be white.

The officer wrote in his report that Harvell appeared to be a neo-Nazi skinhead, but the officer did not say why in the report, Davis-Mays said.

* * *

The dead girl's family said Roten should be charged with a hate crime, which would carry a longer sentence.

They think the shooting was intentional. Mance and Tracy Townsend, an interracial couple, had been taunted after they moved into the neighborhood about a year ago.

Last weekend, the twins, who live with their mother in Clearwater, were visiting their father. About 2:30 a.m. Saturday, Mance and Townsend heard shots. They got up and checked on the kids, who were okay. Deputies came and searched the area.

The couple waited almost two hours before going back to bed. They had just fallen asleep about 4:30 a.m. when gunshots came again.

"He could have waited until all the lights were out in the house, waiting for us to fall asleep," Townsend said.

They got the wounded twins onto couches in the next room.

Mance could tell Ashley was dying. He performed CPR on her and put a towel over her wound.

Said Mance: "I couldn't save her."

-- Times researcher Kitty Bennett and staff writer Jounice L. Nealy contributed to this report.

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