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Suspect in Lyons death plot leaves jail

By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer
©St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 1997

LARGO -- A St. Petersburg man charged with trying to hire a doughnut shop customer to kill the Rev. Henry Lyons was released Tuesday from the Pinellas County Jail after his boss and two friends promised a judge he would show up for court.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada reduced the bail for Dale Hutchins, 52, from $100,000 to $20,000. Then Quesada allowed Hutchins' boss at Mecca Security, Lee Clement, and two of Hutchins' friends, Richard Hanley and John Sherburne, to sign a statement saying they would ensure his presence, or else pay a penalty of up to $20,000.

In arguing for the lower bail, Assistant Public Defender David Parry told the judge that his client's comments about wanting Lyons killed were "just doughnut shop talk" among friends who often gather to talk and joke about the news of the day. Prosecutors have not yet filed a formal charge against Hutchins.

Hutchins has been in jail since Aug. 21, when St. Petersburg police arrested him on a charge of soliciting the murder of Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention USA.

Lyons has come under intense scrutiny since his wife was accused of trying to burn down a home he owns with another woman, a convicted embezzler. The U.S. Justice Department and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office are both investigating him.

On the night of Aug. 12 Hutchins, who has never met Lyons, approached a retiree in a doughnut shot at 5236 16th St. N. Police said Hutchins, who had a handgun with him, spoke of wanting Lyons dead but did not mention specifics about where or when the killing should happen.

He handed the retiree $1,120, police said.

Witnesses said Hutchins told the retiree: "I want you to hit somebody. I want you to kill that black son of a b----, Lyons. I want you to hit that g------ son of a b---- a------ black minister. I want him shot."

The retiree first took the money, then returned it. He called police four days later at the urging of friends. The 59-year-old man, who was not identified by police, is not a professional hit man, police said.

In lowering Hutchins' bail, Quesada noted that Hutchins has lived in Pinellas County for years, has a steady job and has not committed a crime in more than a decade. He pleaded guilty to grand theft in 1978 and shoplifting in 1979, and served probationary sentences for both.

-- Times staff writer Kelly Ryan contributed to this report.

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