LARGO — Police officers packed a small courtroom Thursday, nine wearing full uniform.
They were supporting their friend. In the end, they heard what they hoped to hear.
A jury convicted Velislav Matzov, 20, of armed robbery and attempting to murder an undercover St. Petersburg police detective.
It started the night of April 30, 2008, when two men dressed in black masks and carrying guns rushed into a St. Petersburg Blockbuster store, forcing the employees to put money in backpacks. A woman waited in a getaway car outside.
But they didn't know they were being watched. Officers from the department's special investigations unit had been following their silver Volkswagen Passat that day, suspecting it had been involved in other robberies.
The detective was on foot when he saw the men run into the store. He radioed for the other plainclothes officers, stationed around the perimeter of the store. He hung his badge around his neck.
The two masked men burst from the store with the stolen money — $300. Matzov, authorities said, started firing at the detective, who is not being named because he still works undercover.
"I felt it in my abdomen and it was just like a ball of fire," the detective said in testimony. "I knew I was hit. I knew I couldn't get hit again."
He also took a bullet in the arm. Another sliced off his wristwatch.
Matzov knew he was shooting at an officer, prosecutors contended. The detective had yelled, "Police!"
"He knew what he was shooting at," said Assistant State Attorney Susan St. John. "His big shiny badge turned into a target that night."
Joseph Hollings, 20, and Danielle Karlau, 20 — the other two people named in the crime — pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in the coming months.
Matzov, though, chose a trial. Thursday, he sat clad in a pinstripe suit and pastel pink shirt and tie, defended by attorney Debora Moss. She argued that Matzov didn't shoot anyone, pointing out that there were no .22 caliber casings found. The only thing retrieved was a partial piece of lead.
"A piece of lead that looks like a fastener, a lead fastener," Moss said. "That bullet didn't do that to that watch … this was an investigation designed and tailored to not find out what really happened."
Don't let imagination run free, St. John advised jurors.
"Is it possible there was some man hiding in the bushes waiting to shoot at somebody? Sure. Is it reasonable to believe that? No."
Matzov is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 12.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.