SOUTH PASADENA — John Michael Hill sits in a jail cell in Pinellas County, accused of murdering the man who was his companion for the last 20 years.
There is a defense to prepare, a trial to contemplate. But he has something else on his mind.
His gold has gone missing.
The 44-year-old murder suspect has filed a lawsuit to reclaim what he says was $600,000 worth of gold coins and bars taken from his home sometime after his companion, Charles Longboat, was stabbed to death in May and Hill was arrested.
In his complaint, Hill says that sometime after the slaying, Wilhelmina Longboat, the mother of Charles Longboat, 50, went into the pair's white and red home at 750 65th St. S and took the gold.
Now Hill, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, wants it back.
"It's his contention that the gold belonged to him," said St. Petersburg lawyer Robert Heyman, who represents Hill in the civil case. "He needs to get it back."
Wilhelmina Longboat, 77, the appointed personal representative for her son's estate, has asked a judge to dismiss the case and has filed a wrongful-death suit.
Amy Jo Martin, who represents Wilhelmina Longboat in a probate case, declined to comment. She said her client is planning to consult with a civil lawyer about Hill's lawsuit.
Neighbors described the two men as best friends and roommates who rarely fought.
On the day they did, an otherwise unremarkable morning at the end of May, someone called 911.
Pinellas deputies found a bloodied man lying on the driveway. Longboat, a state health department worker, had been stabbed.
His partner, Hill, was cowering near the house and was stating "religious comments and 'I had to do it,' " according to a sheriff's report.
The men, who had been companions for 20 years, both were taken to local hospitals. Longboat was pronounced dead. Hill was handcuffed and charged with murder.
Detectives and crime scene technicians worked at the home for much of the day, collecting evidence and documenting clues. They presumably secured the home when they left.
More than two months later, on July 10, Hill filed a lawsuit saying the gold was gone from the safe.
Hill, who has remained in the Pinellas County Jail since his May 28 arrest, laid out his claim in a seven-page complaint.
He says that in 2001 or 2002, he purchased several life insurance policies on his mother.
At the time, Hill was listed as the sole beneficiary of the policies, worth about $600,000. For four years, he paid $2,000 a month in premiums.
In 2004 or 2005, Hill says, Charles Longboat, whom he described in court papers as having had a "romantic relationship" with him for 20 years, came to him with an idea.
As a way to save money, Longboat would begin contributing $700 to Hill toward the insurance policy. Shortly afterward, the two also decided to put the policy in Longboat's name, in order to protect Hill's eligibility for disability benefits.
The understanding between the two men, Heyman said, was that even though Longboat's name was on the policy, the money — minus what Longboat contributed — belonged to Hill.
When Hill's mother died in February 2007, they turned the insurance money into certificates of deposits. Then, a year later, Hill decided to put the cash from the CDs into gold coins and bars, which he and Longboat kept in their home safe.
"I think there's a case to be had," Heyman said. "I certainly recognize that he's been involved in a horrendous crime, but that doesn't eliminate the fact … that he has a property interest in the gold."
Hill's claim to the gold appears to be bolstered by information contained in a sheriff's report about the killing.
In the report, one of Hill's relatives said Hill had gotten money after his mother's death but that it was in Longboat's name to protect Social Security benefits. Hill also shared the story about the insurance money and gold with a fellow inmate, the report says.
Heyman said his client feels "terrible" about Longboat's death, but that he feels it's unfair for Longboat's mother to keep the gold.
The gold is the only asset Hill has, Heyman said, which is why a public defender is handling Hill's criminal case.
Heyman said his client knows that if he gets the gold back, he may face tax issues because of not disclosing it as an asset.
"While on paper, it looks like Mr. Longboat's property, but there's no question where the money came from," Heyman said. "At its basic level, it's what fair."