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Charges dropped against Marine reservist accused of attacking priest in Tampa

From left, investigator Dan Grossi, Jasen Bruce and his lawyer, Jeff Brown, face the media Tuesday after charges that Bruce assaulted a Greek Orthodox priest were dropped.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

From left, investigator Dan Grossi, Jasen Bruce and his lawyer, Jeff Brown, face the media Tuesday after charges that Bruce assaulted a Greek Orthodox priest were dropped.

TAMPA — For four months, Jasen Bruce was cast as the bad guy in the story of the Marine and the priest.

Police said Bruce, a 28-year-old Marine reservist, beat a Greek Orthodox priest with a tire iron on Nov. 9. The beating occurred after Father Alexios Marakis asked Bruce for directions, police said.

Bruce maintained that he acted in self-defense and that Marakis grabbed his genitals and tried to rob him in a parking garage.

Bruce was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. The case gained national attention and drew strong reactions from the public, most of it negative toward Bruce.

On Tuesday, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office announced it will not pursue any criminal charges against him.

What really happened that day is still unclear. Prosecutors didn't say Bruce's version of events was correct, just that they couldn't prove it wasn't.

"After considering the law, the evidence, and the information and arguments provided by defense counsel, it is evident that we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Bruce committed a crime and acted without legal justification," said Assistant State Attorney Michael Sinacore.

In a news conference a few hours later at his lawyer's office in St. Petersburg, Bruce said that he's lost his faith in people and religion, but that he would forgive the priest, whom he wants to "man up" about the truth.

"I do forgive him for what he's done to me," he said. "… I'm over it."

• • •

In the fall, Marakis, 29, was working on his master's thesis at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs.

On Nov. 9, he got lost after ministering at a nursing home, church officials said.

Police said that his outdated GPS led him to take a wrong turn off Interstate 275, and that he followed a line of cars into a parking garage for the Seaport Channelside condominiums to ask for directions. Police said Marakis, who is bearded and was wearing a robe, used the broken English he knew to ask "please" and "help."

The priest told police that he approached Bruce asking for help and directions.

Police said Bruce hit the priest on the head with a tire iron, chased him for three blocks and pinned him, all while telling a 911 operator that the man looked like he was from Afghanistan, that he had tried to rob him and that he had grabbed his genitals and propositioned him for sex.

Bruce also claimed the father yelled "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great." Those are the same words some witnesses heard a man utter when he killed 13 people in a highly publicized shooting at Ford Hood the week before.

Police believed the priest.

Marakis was taken to the hospital to get stitches in his head. Bruce was arrested.

• • •

Jerry Theophilopoulos, an attorney for the priest and church, called what happened an act of "roid rage."

And he said Bruce — a 220-pound pharmacy manager who blogs photos of himself flexing his muscles and had worked as a drug informant for police — got a pass from prosecutors.

"The truth of the matter is either the State Attorney's Office has no confidence in their attorneys or the charge was dropped due to Jasen Bruce working as a longtime confidential informant, also known as a snitch," Theophil­opoulos said. "Unfortunately, our criminal justice system is set up in a manner that gives snitches a free pass, and that's what happened here."

Sinacore and Tampa police officials would not discuss whether Bruce worked as an informant.

But Bruce and his attorney confirmed Tuesday that Bruce had gone undercover for police, setting up someone in a drug case.

"It has nothing to do with this case," Bruce said Tuesday.

Sinacore said the decision not to prosecute Bruce was based solely on the evidence and the law.

"The assertions by Mr. Theophilopoulos are false," Sinacore said. "Whether or not he was a confidential informant was not even a consideration in our decision."

Theophilopoulos said Marakis returned to Greece in mid January after finishing his thesis but had been willing to come back and cooperate with authorities.

• • •

Bruce and his attorney, Jeff Brown, praised Sinacore for the decision not to pursue the charge.

Brown said he and his own investigators found that the priest knew how to speak English better than what police and church officials had portrayed.

They also said they don't believe the priest was really lost, pointing out that he was in a "known gay trolling area" near a bar.

"They never should have made that arrest," Brown said.

Bruce said he has been berated by the media and has gotten hate mail.

"I feel good that I've been vindicated," Bruce said. "I defended myself that night.

"I knew I had done nothing criminal."

His attorney said a civil lawsuit has not been ruled out.

Times staff writer Demorris Lee contributed to this report.

The tale on tape

According to the Tampa Police Department report, the 911 call from Jasen Bruce lasted 7 minutes and 9 seconds. Here are some of the things he said about Father Alexios Marakis as he chased him through the Channel District:

• • •

"I got a guy who's trying to mug me. … He just grabbed my f------ b---- when I got out of my car. … I just hit him with a tire iron and he's trying to take off. He said he was going to f------ kill me. … This guy's not gonna come back. I wanna knock him out."

• • •

"He looks like a Middle Eastern guy, a Taliban guy. … He straight up looks like he came from Afghanistan … knows where I live and knows what I drive and I'm not letting him come back. I'll kill him. I got a wife."

• • •

"I can't freaking hold this guy any longer. I'm not letting him go. I'm gonna beat him until he don't move if the cops don't come. He's coming back for me."

Charges dropped against Marine reservist accused of attacking priest in Tampa 03/09/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 12:16am]
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