Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014

St. Pete man convicted of murder in double-slaying

By
Published:   |   Updated: June 28, 2013 at 10:23 PM

CLEARWATER - Lisa Wheeler-Brown looked at the man who killed her son in court Friday. If he had met her before the murder, she told him, he would have known she'd stop at nothing to bring him to justice.

"Enjoy your life in prison," Wheeler-Brown, 44, told Jerry Tyrone Jones. "And don't forget to drop the soap."

Wheeler-Brown's remarks came within minutes after a jury found Jones guilty of fatally shooting her son, Cabretti Wheeler, 21, and Kyle Ellis, 24, on Sept. 6, 2008, at Dat's Right Audio, a studio located in a warehouse-style building at 8191 46th Ave. N.

Jurors also found Jones, 24, guilty of trying to kill Gary Small, a mechanic living in the building, who stumbled upon the slayings after hearing what he thought were firecrackers.

Jones was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. Pinellas Circuit Judge Thane Covert sentenced him to three consecutive life sentences.

The jury deliberated for only an hour, and 10 members of the 12-person panel decided to stay and see what Jones' punishment would be.

"It was pretty cut-and-dry for us," said juror Dana Tate, 22. "He had done it."

Wheeler-Brown was not exaggerating her role in the investigation. After her son was killed, she went around the neighborhood wearing a T-shirt bearing his image, getting information and passing it on to investigators.

Outside court, before the verdict, she said she had told investigators with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office she had heard Jones might have had something to do with the slayings and that he had a scar, or indentation, on his forehead. But the case went cold for a couple of years, and only after it was re-opened did sheriff's detectives give him a hard look as a suspect.

Prosecutors say someone else was also involved in the shootings of Wheeler and Ellis but don't know who it was.

The key witness in Jones' trial was Small, who identified Jones as the man who pistol-whipped him when he stumbled upon the shootings, and subsequently shot him five times. Jones miraculously survived.

Assistant Public Defender John Swisher, one of Jones' attorneys, told jurors Thursday that Small's identification of Jones was not credible. Small had only one eye, and it was filled with blood and water after he was pistol-whipped.

In addition, Small failed to note the indentation on Jones' face - when he called 911, and when he was interviewed at the hospital, Jones' attorneys said. When he helped sheriff's investigators put together a composite sketch, with the help of a software program, a form was filled out noting that it was unknown whether the suspect had a scar.

Small, a mechanic, also got wrong the make, model and year of the car he said he saw leaving, while hiding in a retention pond, Swisher said.

Another witness was Krystal Coston, an inmate at the Pinellas County Jail who befriended Jones after his arrest. She told authorities Jones admitted to the shooting, to her, and said it was a "G-thing" - a gangster thing.

Swisher also questioned Coston's testimony, suggesting it came as the result of a deal she cut to win a short sentence in connection with charges she was facing.

But Assistant State Attorney Mark McGarry told jurors there was other evidence, including a taped telephone conversation Jones made from jail, during which he admitted to shooting the men, even though there is a sign telling inmates all their calls are recorded.

Referring to a transcript of that conversation, McGarry quoted Jones as saying, "I think I really [messed] up." But Jones told the man on the other end of the line he would not turn in his accomplice.

"I did what I did and I live my life," Jones was quoted as saying in the conversation.

"I take everything, I got this," McGarry quoted Jones as saying. "I will be the sacrificial lamb like Jesus was."

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

Subscribe to The St. Petersburg Tribune

Comments