Happy 20th birthday, TBO.com! Here is the logo at launch in 1994.
Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014

Pinellas jury deadlocks in murder case

By
Published:

CLEARWATER — There were roughly 15 friends and family members at the card game in south St. Petersburg that night, with anywhere from $200 to $900 in cash on the table, when two armed men burst through the door and started shooting.

As the robbers yelled “Get down” and “Give it up,” one man jumped out of a bedroom window, according to a police report. Three women tried squeezing out of a bathroom window, but only two of them made it, the third lying down in a tub.

A grandmother was shot in the buttocks while holding her infant grandchild. After one’s man nephew was shot in the side as he stood up from the card table, the uncle drove him to what was then Bayfront Medical Center.

When the pandemonium was over, in the doorway lay Ebony Stewart, a 27-year-old single mother who was on her way out when the intruders arrived. She answered the door and was killed with a single shot to the chest.

On Tuesday, nearly three years after the March 23, 2011, fatal home invasion at 1036 19th St. S., a jury couldn’t agree on whether to convict one of the two alleged gunman, Ronnie Betts, and a mistrial was declared.

Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, said they will try the case again.

The second suspect was never charged, though witnesses said it was the man with the 9 mm handgun, later identified by police as Betts, who did the shooting. The other suspect, who was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, didn’t fire a shot, the police report states.

Jurors deliberated for more than six hours Tuesday before announcing they had reached an impasse.

Betts, now 24, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Stewart, who was on her way to pick up her two children, a 10-month-old and a 4-year-old at the time, when she was killed.

Betts also was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder — one for shooting Betty Ford, then 58, in the buttocks as Ford held a grandchild, the other for shooting Antonio Ford, then 27, whose uncle took him to Bayfront.

A couple of witnesses at the card game picked Betts out of a photograph lineup, though the vast majority could not identify him, investigators have said.

Bill Bennett, one of Betts’ defense attorneys, told jurors in closing arguments Tuesday that the eyewitness testimony identifying Betts was inconsistent and conflicting.

Prosecutors also said Betts sent text messages to his cousin, Maurice Bradley, informing him of the killing afterward. Bennett countered they hadn’t proven he crafted the texts, just that they came from a phone in his possession.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504.

Comments