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Trial under way in filmed beating of disabled man

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Published:   |   Updated: December 19, 2013 at 05:55 AM

CLEARWATER — In the 12-minute video, a chubby and unshaven James Cayer Jr. is wearing only shorts as he submits to a beating by a scantily-clad woman, cringing, trying to cover his face and yelling out after each blow.

That was July 30, 2011.

On Wednesday, Cayer, 39, clean-shaven and wearing a black dress shirt and black pants, was on a witness stand to testify against the woman who is alleged to have kicked and punched him, and the video producer who prosecutors say arranged the one-sided match.

Cayer is a schizophrenic with an IQ of 69.

He is one of a handful of homeless men who authorities say were paid $25 to $50 to be beaten on videotape by a woman in 2011.

The video’s producer, Jeffrey Williams, 61, of St. Petersburg, has acknowledged he has set up videotaped beatdowns for sale online, but with professional actors, not mentally disabled homeless men. And the men, including Cayer, signed waivers releasing Williams from any liability.

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Williams and the female combatant, Zuzu Irvina Vargo, of Fruitland Park, who was then 24, both are charged with aggravated abuse of a disabled adult in connection with Cayer’s beating. If convicted, they each face a possible sentence of 37 months, according to sentencing guidelines, Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson said.

They also have two additional counts of the same charge in connection with two separate beatings involving a homeless man named Kyle Shaw in a case that has yet to go to trial, Davidson said.

On Wednesday, Assistant State Attorney Susan St. John coaxed Cayer’s testimony from him, making sure he knew the difference between the truth and lying before he told his story. “I’m bad,” he said when asked what it would mean to lie.

At the time of the beating, Cayer testified, he was living in a Pinellas group home, taking Risperdal for schizophrenia and making weekend visits to his mother’s house using a bus pass.

He testified that one day he met a woman on a bus as he went to visit his mother. The two spent several days at a hotel before she kicked him out, he testified.

With his suitcase in tow, he got on another bus and ended up in Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg, where he had never been. He had a phone but didn’t know his mother’s number, he said.

His medication was in his suitcase, but he didn’t know when to take it. He didn’t ask for help from the police because of their “guns and hats,” and he said he also saw them use electric stun guns to shoot people at the park.

“I was scared,” he said. “I’ve seen people get tazed. It doesn’t look too good.”

After sleeping on the streets for several nights, he was approached by a man who asked whether he wanted to make some money, Cayer testified. Cayer didn’t have any money and was eating twice a day at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen.

First he went to an apartment near Tropicana Field and then was driven to a small business called Ringside Studio in Clearwater.

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In court, Cayer identified Williams as the man who had him sign the consent waiver. “He’s baldheaded and has a suit on,” he said. He also identified Vargo.

Cayer said he didn’t know what the words “indemify,” “relinquish” or “covenant” meant.

“He said I would be getting into the ring with (Vargo) and couldn’t fight back or nothing,” Cayer testified. He was told to take off his shirt first and received $20 to $25 for his participation, he said.

He said he was struck in the stomach, face, knees and elbows. Afterward, he had two black eyes and felt pain in his legs. “My whole body was hurt,” he said.

The video shows a woman beating Cayer, knocking him down, making him get back up, and making him kiss her feet.

Afterward, Cayer was dropped off in Williams Park.

His mother, who had been looking for him, had to show St. Petersburg police a Mother’s Day card he created to show them he had the mind of a 10-year-old so officers would be more serious about looking for him, St. John said.

Cayer testified that he now is living with his mother and messages her whenever he arrives at a destination so she knows where he is.

Cayer, Shaw and a few other homeless men sued Williams and his company, J.P. Florida Productions, on the grounds they were targeted for participation in the videos because they were homeless, but the lawsuit was settled out of court, Williams’ attorney, Luke Lirot, said.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7305

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