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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014

Jury finds ex-con guilty of murder of man he didn’t shoot

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Published:   |   Updated: January 24, 2014 at 10:08 PM

CLEARWATER — The two guests they invited to their St. Petersburg house, after meeting them at the Atlantis Gentlemen’s Club in Largo, didn’t turn out to be so sociable after all.

One, an ex-convict named Heyward “Harley” Hopkins, whipped out a handgun, as did the other, Daniel Brown III. “Put your hands up,” one of the hosts remembered one of them saying.

But another denizen of the house, convicted drug dealer Ryan Jaeger, wasn’t about to be robbed. Jaeger went to his bedroom to retrieve his own weapon, and a gun battle erupted, according to St. Petersburg police.

When it was over, Brown was dead. Jaeger was shot four times. Another man, Charles Hernandez, suffered a gunshot wound while running away.

Only one man, however, was held responsible for all of the wounded or killed in the Aug. 9 shoot out, in accordance with Florida law — Hopkins.

Because Hopkins was committing a felony — robbery — or trying to before the gun battle, he was charged with felony murder in the second-degree in Brown’s death, even though it was Jaeger who shot Brown in the face and stomach, killing him.

Hopkins, 31, also was charged with attempted felony murder in the wounding of Hernandez. And later, after investigators found a bullet from Hopkins’ gun in Brown’s thigh, prosecutors added another attempted murder charge, their theory being the bullet was intended for Jaeger.

After deliberating for more than six hours late Thursday and early Friday, a jury found Hopkins guilty of all murder counts, except the one involving Hernandez.

They also found him guilty of shooting into an occupied dwelling, and of attempted robbery.

Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 7.

Hopkins’ defense attorney, Kelly McCabe, said on Friday she will appeal the verdict because it is inconsistent. She said Hopkins wasn’t found guilty in the shooting of Hernandez, but for felony murder, he should have been found guilty in all of the shootings, or none.

Scott Vieth, an assistant state attorney who prosecuted the case, declined to respond to McCabe’s argument.

Hopkins faces a life sentence for the murder conviction stemming from his accomplice’s death, McCabe said.

He was released from prison three years ago after serving seven years for, among other things, stealing cars, running from police and drug possession.

He told people afterward he had no intention of going back, according to St. Petersburg police reports.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504.

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