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Rocky marriage of Hydra Lacy Jr. in some ways led to tragic shootings

What remains of the violent romance of Hydra and Christine Lacy is scattered across a debris pile near where 22nd Street S dead ends at Lake Maggiore. Sprinkled among the cracked cinder blocks and broken tiles are photographs of a wedding cake, a Valentine's Day card and a string of Christmas lights. Pioneer Brand Brown Gravy Mix and a crunched tub of Country Crock. Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia Vol. 4 and a red dictionary splayed on the heap like a dead cardinal.

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If you could untwist the metal and re-shelve the books, stuff bullets back into Glocks and bring Hydra Lacy Jr. down from his attic, you'd find a tidy house owned by two people who said they were in love.

If it was love, it was complicated and chaotic and dysfunctional. They fought like wolves, all rage and jealousy. They fought with swords, fought with liquor bottles. He broke her bones.

Ordered to stay apart, they ended up back together. She knew how to test him, how to please him, how to make that giant man feel small. And when the police came looking for him, she knew where he was.

He's in the attic.

Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Sgt. Thomas Baitinger died trying to bring Hydra Lacy Jr. out of the attic. A U.S. marshal took two bullets and lived. It was the first police shooting in the city in 30 years.

Nearly a week later, no one seems to know how long Lacy hid in the attic, what weapon he carried, or why he was at the house. He'd been on the lam for weeks.

The people who knew him describe a hard worker, a good friend. He didn't do drugs or drink too much. He had no tattoos. He had violence in his past, but had stayed out of trouble for a stretch. His latest unraveling began with the battles with his wife, under the roof of that orange house.

• • •

The three-bedroom home at 3734 28th Ave. S was the first he ever owned. He paid $116,000 for it on Feb. 26, 2004.

He worked at Lakehill Supply of Largo as a truck driver and a manager. He was months away from marrying Christine Pitts, a twice-divorced mother of two boys.

Three years out of state prison, Lacy, at 32, was starting again.

"Everyone knew Hydra had problems in his past," said Michelle Williams, an administrator at Lakehill Supply. "But to me he was a person who decided to turn his life around and was doing pretty well."

His friends say the man they called "Hide" loved all 1,656 square feet of his new place.

He replaced windows, laid tile, slapped on stucco and orange paint. He installed granite countertops in the kitchen. On a little patio he set up grills: one propane, one charcoal and a big barrel smoker. He held court out there with his friends, holding a cold Bud Light with one hand, flipping ribs with the other.

That might not sound like much, but for Lacy, it might as well have been a palace.

He was the second oldest of the nine children of Hydra Lacy Sr., a former pro boxer, and Sarah Hill. His mother was sick a lot and his father worked a lot, so Lacy and his brother Darrell practically lived at a neighbor's. Willie Mae Norton, 60 now, had six kids of her own, but Hydra and Darrell fit right in.

She'd make grits and bacon and share what little she had. Her daughters called Hydra their brother. He was big for his age and he looked after them. The boys rode their bikes and listened to Kool Moe Dee and Salt-N-Pepa. Norton drove Hydra to school every morning at St. Pete Alternative. One time he cut class and showed up at Norton's with a big bag of M&Ms, her favorite, and she let it slide.

He grew past 6 feet and started building a rap sheet: burglary, larceny and auto theft by 17. Aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer a couple of years later.

At 17, he had a son with a younger girl. Women were always hanging around, Norton said.

"He'd fall in love real easily," said his friend Marvin Neal, 44. "Women were his weakest point."

• • •

On Nov. 9, 1991, late at night, a girl was walking to a friend's apartment. She was 17. She heard a voice.

"Come here," said Hydra Lacy Jr.

"What do you want?" she said.

She'd met him the year before at Lakewood High School. He was 20 and didn't go to Lakewood but he hung out with the kids who lingered long past the last bell. He seemed quiet, a little "off," as she put it.

She once said she briefly went out with him, court documents show, but today she says she never did.

Whatever their relationship, in June 1991, he broke into her home with a gun and stayed for two hours, just talking. He later apologized to the girl and her mother, and they didn't pursue charges.

Now here he was again. He was angry, ranting, she would say later in a deposition. He snatched off her gold necklaces, tugged her hoops out of her ears and dragged her to a car. He threatened to shoot her if she ran. He drove out of the neighborhood and pulled onto Interstate 275. A few miles later, he pulled onto the shoulder and said his car had run out of gas.

"You're lucky," he said.

He tried to unzip her jeans.

"Hydra, stop."

He was 6 feet 4. She was 5 feet 5. He slapped her and forced her into the back seat and raped her for three hours, she told police. Every 15 minutes, he'd make her turn over and he'd continue, then he'd stop to catch his breath.

"It was a long time," she said.

She remembers little things. The intermittent rain. The swoosh of passing cars. The big green sign for the 22nd Avenue S exit.

If I just get out, she thought, that's where I'll run. He fell asleep on her and she couldn't flee. Police found them there by the road.

Hydra Lacy Jr. was found guilty of false imprisonment and sexual battery, and served nine years in state prison.

The girl is 36 now, a mom, married and living out of state. When she visits St. Petersburg, she tries not to go out much.

"It was death in his eyes," she recalled last week. "He had no understanding of what was going on. He just had this crazy look in his eyes."

• • •

In March 2001, Hydra Lacy signed parole papers and started again.

Those who knew him said he seemed happy and busy. "He wasn't getting into trouble," Willie Mae Norton said. "He did good. He kept a job. He didn't ask for anything."

Lacy would call his friend Jervon Newton after work and ask if the guys at Newton's Auto on 35th Street had eaten. If not, he'd show up in his sparkling yellow and white 2005 Dodge Ram pickup with ox tails or beef stew or turkey wings.

He rode motorcycles on Sundays, meeting friends at the Shell station on 34th Street and heading to the beaches or to Manatee County. He liked to ride in the back, a friend said, to make sure everyone was okay.

"The person I know, he always had a smile and would make you laugh," said Sheila Smith of St. Petersburg. "He was a friendly, happy-go-lucky guy."

• • •

Hydra Lacy married Christine Pitts, six years his senior, unceremoniously in July 2004. The two took great care of their home on 28th Avenue S, where they lived with three Rottweilers: Zoey, Bam Bam and Diezel.

"He loved her," said Marvin Neal, adding that Lacy often bought his wife gifts, including a BMW. "She rode in the best stuff."

Her family liked Lacy as well.

"He had a good sense of humor," said her sister, Carol Jewell. "He was helpful."

If Christine was worried about his past, she didn't let on. "My sister pretty much thought people can change," Jewell said. "She thought he would never do anything to harm her. He was this protector to her."

Besides, she had a record of her own. She and a friend had been charged three years before with grand theft after they stole from a Bed Bath & Beyond. Christine entered a pretrial intervention program.

In February 2006, Hydra Lacy wrecked his motorcycle and spent two months in the hospital. Christine, who worked at a bar and a clothing store, spent her spare time caring for him.

"I then found out Lacy was seeing somebody," she later told an attorney in a sworn deposition. "I found out she had been visiting him at the hospital."

They stayed together, but it wasn't peaceful.

She would talk down to him, hit him with her hair brush, punch him, call him names in front of his friends.

Even though Christine Lacy stood 5 feet 2 and weighed 140 pounds. Even though Hydra Lacy stood 6 feet 5, weighed 290 pounds, wore size 14 boots and threw a hook that could shatter a man's jaw.

"I'm the more aggressive person," she told an attorney in a sworn deposition last year. "Like I told him, he can't do nothing to me anyway. I always told him, no matter what, he's got a criminal background, he's a black man, I'm a white girl. They're going to believe me before they believe him."

Jervon Newton, 31, said Christine came to his auto shop more than once swearing, cussing, telling Lacy it was time to come home. She called him a------ and n-----?, and when he left with her, he'd hang his head and shuffle his feet.

Willie Mae Norton overheard Lacy tell his wife that they should "stay apart for a while." Another time, she talked to Christine. "I love Hydra but sometimes he gets irritated," Christine told her. "I don't know what to do."

In December 2007, the two had an altercation. The next day, Christine called Lacy's probation officer to say Lacy had slapped her and thrown her on the bathroom floor. When police arrived, Christine did not want to press charges. The state filed them anyway, but dropped them two weeks later. Christine's sister, Carol Jewell, described Christine as the aggressor in that fight.

In April 2008, Lacy was arrested for a parole violation because of the December fight. His parole officer wanted a hearing to reconsider his parole. Lacy spent more than a month in jail. His wife visited him six times. When he got out, he'd lost his job.

That's when things began to spiral.

• • •

Between 2004 and 2007, when credit was easy to come by, the Lacys bought seven houses, often paying top dollar. By 2009, they were in default on all but one: the house on 28th Avenue S. The two had refinanced in 2006 and Lacy added Christine's name to the deed.

In July 2008, Lacy landed another job, with an excavation and paving company. He drove a truck, hauling debris containers to and from construction sites. Each day he would wash down the truck first thing in the morning so it looked good.

Lacy was one of "the best workers we ever had," said Dana Site Development vice president Dana Cronin of Parrish. "He was prompt every day. He showed up at work ready to go. He never took a break unnecessarily.''

"He was soft-spoken and well-mannered and respectful," said company president Teresa Nelson. "We had nothing but compliments from customers about what a fine man he was.''

Then, one day last fall, he didn't show up.

• • •

On June 2, 2009, St. Petersburg police were called to the Lacys' house. Police found Christine bleeding on the floor. Lacy admitted he stabbed her with a sword. A CAT scan showed a broken nose and a broken bone in her face. She went home the next day, able to eat only pudding.

Police charged Lacy with domestic aggravated battery, which could have landed him 30 years in prison. He was released on bail and began making regular payments to Webb's Bail Bonds in St. Petersburg.

He always stayed awhile to chit-chat, said Henry Webb, 72. "We would talk about his job, and he talked about his brother who was a boxer." His brother Jeff is a former International Boxing Federation super middleweight champion.

As a condition of bond, Lacy was ordered to have no contact with his wife.

Over the next four months Christine twice asked a judge to allow her contact with her husband. She then asked the state to drop its case.

That's common in domestic violence cases, experts say. Victims back off because they're scared or financially dependent on their abusers. But because the case involved weapons and serious injuries, prosecutors pushed on even without Christine.

• • •

They took her deposition in March 2010, and her story had changed considerably.

The day before the fight, she told them, she had found another woman's number on Lacy's cell phone. She confronted him at the auto shop, then followed him home. He asked her to leave, and they fought about it. "This is my house," she told him.

Eventually, she went to work and stayed the night at her sister's.

The next afternoon he called and told her to stay away from the house. She rushed over.

Lacy refused to speak to her. She called him names. He called her a cracker.

"What did you do after that?" she was asked in the deposition.

"Got in his face and started talking junk to him," she said. "And I hit him with my hair brush to try to get his attention."

She continued: "I mean, I've always been the more aggressive type, because honestly I felt that I can't stand — I don't agree with that cheating thing."

She said Lacy told her over and over again to get out of his house. Then he pushed her back. She fell onto a coffee table covered with candles, a remote control and Samurai swords.

She went on: "I pick up the smaller one — I can't handle the big one, sorry — and I hit him with it. And so then we just start tussling and fighting and one thing led to another and I was trying to hurt him and he was trying to back off of me. And I guess I hit him where it hurt or something."

She told them she was angry because she had done so much for him. She washed the granite countertops. She swept the tile floors. She worked two jobs to keep them out of foreclosure.

"I was going to leave until people said why should you leave your house and, you know, it's your house and, you know, he's the one cheating. Let him go live with the girl."

She didn't think he was really trying to hurt her.

"He's a big boy," she said. "If he was really trying to hurt me I would not be sitting here in this room."

But she said she was trying to hurt him.

"I was taught when I was a little girl you hit," she said. "If somebody can beat you, you hit and hit and pick up anything you can to hurt that person. And I was going to try to hurt him. I really was."

The fight continued into the back room where she kept her collection of unopened liquor bottles. "And I tried to hit him with it, you know. It doesn't work very well. They don't — they don't break very well; not like TV."

He picked up a bottle, too, she said, and told her if she hit him, he'd hit her back. She swung.

She bled so much she thought she would pass out. She got staples in her head and leg.

The prosecutor tried to pin her down. "So, the difference is back then you lied?"

"Correct. Well not necessarily lie about everything, just kind of made it look like it was more him."

She said she hadn't seen him since the incident nine months before. She was asked if she still loved him.

"I love him," she said. "I'm always going to love him."

• • •

Lacy's best friend Jervon Newton said the two were in contact despite the order barring it. "If she got mad at him, she would threaten to call the police, knowing he would get in trouble for violating the protection order," he said.

Newton asked Lacy why he didn't stay away. "He said because he loved his wife."

The state pressed ahead with its case, and scheduled a court date for Nov. 1. Hydra Lacy didn't show.

Facing 30 years, he had been offered a plea arrangement that would have given him 10 years, according to the prosecutor. But when he failed to show, his bail was revoked and so was the deal. Prosecutors planned to take Lacy to trial and seek a 30-year prison sentence.

On Nov. 2, a warrant for his arrest was transmitted from the court to the Sheriff's Office.

• • •

For 83 days they searched for the man who friends called Hide.

The St. Petersburg Police Department. The Pinellas Sheriff's Office. The U.S. Marshals Service.

Henry Webb, owner of Webb's Bail Bonds, had to pay $27,000 because his client skipped. Webb started driving by the house at night, looking for Lacy. He even had a neighborhood lookout. Nothing.

Hydra quit riding motorcycles on Sundays. Quit hanging around the auto shop. Quit calling his buddy every morning.

"He vanished," Newton said.

He wasn't living at his house, Christine's sister said. Christine was.

"She thought he was coming and going when she wasn't there," she said. "As far as I know he was not living there."

But something strange happened shortly after Lacy went on the lam.

On Nov. 9, Christine filed a quit-claim deed with the court that took Lacy's name off their house. It was witnessed and notarized.

Except the signature is not his. Handwriting expert Shirl Solomon, hired by the St. Petersburg Times to examine the document and other known Lacy signatures, confirmed this.

Christine signed his name, saying she held Lacy's power of attorney, according to Jessica Watts, 42, who notarized the document. Watts, records show, pleaded guilty to grand theft in 2001 after she and Christine stole from Bed Bath & Beyond.

The deed did not indicate Christine was signing as power of attorney. It just had Lacy's signature, as if he had held the pen himself.

Christine had shown Watts a document that said she had power of attorney, Watts said.

"I might have gotten taken advantage of," she said. "She had the document in her hand and she said to me, 'I don't want you to think I'm doing anything funny.' "

What purpose such a transfer might have served is unclear. Hydra had not used the house as collateral for his bond, and the mortgage was so high, the house had no equity.

Christine has not returned calls or messages from the Times.

• • •

When the law showed up at Hydra Lacy's house early Monday, it was his wife who told the officers he was hiding in the attic.

Who knows how long he had been up there.

What is known is that he mentioned to friends that he wasn't going back to prison and was tired of life on the run.

"He had it made up in his mind that he wasn't going back," said Newton. "I think he got tired, and when he was backed into a corner …"

A few days before, Lacy had stopped by Willie Mae Norton's house.

"I'm on the run," he said. "I'm not going back to prison."

He told her he had a friend out of town, and it would be awhile before she saw him again.

"If you're going to run you can't be coming back here," she said.

He gave her a hug that made her uneasy, then he was gone.

• • •

When the dust settled Monday afternoon, two police officers lay dead and a U.S. marshal injured. The body of Hydra Lacy, 39, was found in the rubble of the house he loved, not far from a photograph of what appears to be a wedding celebration. His wife has smeared cake on his face, and they are smiling.

Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Rita Farlow, Jamal Thalji and Susan Taylor Martin; researchers Caryn Baird, Carolyn Edds, Shirl Kennedy and Natalie Watson; and photographer Cherie Diez. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

Rocky marriage of Hydra Lacy Jr. in some ways led to tragic shootings 01/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 1:55pm]
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