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A murder case with a twist, scheduled to begin this week

OLDSMAR — Three teenagers who were mad about some stolen coins cornered Gregory S. Longley at the tiny Aday Motel.

They pointed a gun at him. They forced him into a car. They talked about killing him.

Longley didn't know exactly why the three men were abducting him, but he knew he was in serious danger, according to accounts in court records. So he started to form a plan.

The way things turned out — gunfire, blood, police — will be described in a murder trial set to begin Tuesday.

Whatever happens, it's a trial that will spotlight a fact about Florida's legal system: You don't need to pull the trigger to be charged with murdering a man. You don't even need to want him dead.

• • •

The trouble started with a stolen car and some missing coins. According to statements given in depositions, here is what happened:

One guy had a stolen car. Another guy was supposed to sell it. Somewhere along the way, some coins disappeared out of the car. And people got very, very angry about it.

Sean Gerstmann, who had the stolen car, said he kept getting nasty calls from people who thought he took the coins.

One "threatened me he was going to shoot me," Gerstmann said.

He and Longley were friends, two 20-year-olds who liked to get together and go fishing and smoke marijuana.

One day in September 2008, the two were hanging out in the motel, where Gerstmann had a room. They talked about the dispute over the coins. Longley urged his friend to walk away from it.

Then Longley's girlfriend called. So he stepped out to talk on his cell phone. A few minutes later, Gerstmann went out to check on him.

But Longley had disappeared — even though his car was still in the parking lot.

• • •

Three guys, still angry about the missing coins, had come to the hotel looking for Gerstmann. Instead, they found Longley and one allegedly pointed a handgun to his head.

Longley knows guns. His father taught him to shoot at age 6 and often took him hunting. "I looked at the gun. … I can see the rounds in the chamber so I took him seriously."

The three forced him into the back of a car, Longley said.

They discussed driving to a deli to find Gerstmann and "talking about (how) they were going to go there and kill him," Longley recalled.

They also talked about shooting him.

Longley said he watched as one of the three men passed the gun to the guy sitting next to him in the back seat. The man put the gun in his lap and began texting.

Then he took his hand off the gun. Longley saw his chance.

"So I picked it up and shot him in the head," he said.

Javon Strange, 18, died from the wound.

The driver slowed down, and the man in the passenger seat turned back toward Longley. "I shot him in the head, too," he said.

Juan Carlos Morales of Tampa survived.

Longley pointed the gun one more time — at the driver, who authorities say was 18-year-old Abdusbasiyr A. Blake.

Blake slowed down. Longley demanded his cell phone, got out and walked away.

He went back to the motel and called 911.

• • •

Morales, who is now 19, presumably never wanted Strange to die. And he's not the one who pulled the trigger. Nonetheless, he is charged with second-degree murder and will head to trial Tuesday.

Blake is also charged with second-degree murder and has a trial scheduled for Aug. 10.

Longley faces no charges.

Florida is one of a minority of states that allow what are known as second-degree felony murder prosecutions, said Robert Batey, a professor at Stetson University College of Law.

If people commit felony crimes together, and someone dies as a result, they can be charged with what's called felony murder, even if they weren't the ones who did the killing.

An example: Two armed men rob a bank. If one of the men shoots and kills a security guard during the robbery, both robbers — even the one who didn't pull the trigger — can face charges of first-degree felony murder because the killing occurred during the commission of a felony.

Cases like that land on prosecutors' desks every so often.

Second-degree felony murder cases are much more rare.

An example: Two men rob a bank. If one of the robbers gets shot and killed by the security guard, the other robber can be charged with second-degree felony murder — even though it was his accomplice who died and he didn't pull the trigger.

Some murder cases focus heavily on the defendant's motive, but that's not true in cases like this one.

"It's a fundamental premise of felony murder that you don't have to prove the intent to kill," Batey said.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8232.

A murder case with a twist, scheduled to begin this week 07/10/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 10, 2010 9:12pm]
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