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Charges reduced in Tarpon Springs slaying because shooter was protecting a child

Christopher Kubiak, 21, pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of manslaughter in the killing of martial arts instructor Joseph Brignoli.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Christopher Kubiak, 21, pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of manslaughter in the killing of martial arts instructor Joseph Brignoli.

Christopher Kubiak faced life in prison if convicted of last year's bloody, execution-style slaying of a martial arts instructor in the driveway of his Tarpon Springs home.

Kubiak, authorities said, had confessed to pumping 18 slugs from an automatic rifle into Joseph Brignoli on Super Bowl Sunday 2011.

But on Thursday, attorneys announced an unusual plea deal that reduced the first-degree murder charge against Kubiak to manslaughter and gave him a 12-year prison sentence instead of life. He will get credit for the 11 months he has already spent in the Pinellas County Jail.

The plea deal, authorities said, was arranged after investigators determined Kubiak, 21, shot 33-year-old Brignoli to protect a child from sexual abuse.

A 13-year-old boy present at Brignoli's home the day of the killing told Tarpon Springs police detectives that Brignoli, his martial arts coach, had sexually abused him on multiple occasions and even videotaped the assaults.

"We felt that, no, you are not justified in taking a life. You should be punished for doing that," Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday. "But given the circumstances, there is much mitigation to consider as to why (Kubiak) did what he did."

• • •

As the Super Bowl was wrapping up last Feb. 6, Brignoli's bullet-riddled body was found slumped against his garage door. He had so many wounds — seven shots to his head alone — that blood and brain tissue were splattered across the driveway.

Tarpon Springs detectives quickly tracked down a boy who was seen running from the scene. They soon determined that the boy spent a lot of time at Brignoli's home and that Brignoli had even told people the boy was his son.

Brignoli had recently argued with the boy's real father, who felt Brignoli was obsessed with his son and told him to back off. On the afternoon of Feb. 6, Brignoli went to the Palm Harbor apartment complex where the boy's father lived and fired multiple rounds from an assault rifle in the parking lot.

An errant bullet struck resident Jim Freeman in the face. Freeman, who did not know Brignoli, died about a week later from an accidental overdose of pain medication.

After leaving the Palm Harbor complex, Brignoli picked up his friend Kubiak and told him about shooting the gun at the father's apartment complex. The two then picked up the boy, and all three went to Brignoli's townhome on Flying Fish Lane in Tarpon Springs.

The boy told investigators Brignoli was drunk and berating him that night. The boy reported that Kubiak told him about the apartment incident and that he feared for the boy's safety.

The boy said Kubiak grabbed the AR-15 rifle —the same one used earlier in the drive-by shooting — and handed it to him. The boy pointed the gun at Brignoli, but struggled under the weight of it and dropped it, he said.

As Brignoli and Kubiak wrestled over the gun, the boy ran.

• • •

Kubiak got the rifle, forced Brignoli to his knees and shot him, police said.

Detectives got a search warrant for Brignoli's townhome and soon found disturbing images on his computer. In all, investigators said, they found "thousands" of pictures and videos containing child pornography in Brignoli's home.

"He seemed to have a preference for teens," said Tarpon Springs police Detective William Peters.

Peters declined to verify that the investigation has identified additional children sexually abused by Brignoli.

"Honestly, the only way I can answer that is to say there are several investigations that have spawned out of this, that are being investigated by other agencies," Peters said this week.

• • •

Neither Brignoli's nor Kubiak's family members attended Thursday's court hearing where Kubiak pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter. But a victim advocate read a statement from Brignoli's mother.

"A mother's love never ceases and along with murdering my son, the defendant has also murdered a piece of my heart. … Joe was 33 years old upon his death and he did not deserve to have his entire future taken from him with such brutality," the statement read.

In a phone interview, Kubiak's mother, Amy, said she did not attend the hearing at the request of her son.

At the time of his arrest, Kubiak was barred from the family home because of violent outbursts, she said. Kubiak was arrested at age 13 when he vandalized a school. He spent much of his youth in and out of juvenile detention facilities, Amy Kubiak said. As an adult, he was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, battery on a law enforcement officer and carrying a concealed weapon.

Through tears, Amy Kubiak said Wednesday her "heart is broken" over the entire situation.

"I have to walk with this for the rest of my life, as his mother, with a child I just totally adored," she said. "I have to take this into my life and know my son's a murderer.

"I don't want a child molester anywhere around my children, or around me," she said, "but it wasn't (Christopher's) job to do what he did. He should have just called 911, instead of doing what he did."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157.

Charges reduced in Tarpon Springs slaying because shooter was protecting a child 01/05/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 6, 2012 7:53am]

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