DADE CITY — A Dade City man who beat a murder rap about five years ago and who escaped a life term for a robbery because of an error during his trial will spend the next 20 years in prison.
Anthony James Harris, 28, was supposed to have spent the rest of his life in prison for a 2007 armed robbery at a Zephyrhills park that left two men hospitalized. But prosecutors changed the charge twice, the last time to an attempted robbery with a firearm.
The evidence indicated the robbery had been completed, and the jury found Harris guilty of armed robbery. Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa had no choice but to put him away for life because of Harris' prior crimes and prison time.
Harris appealed, saying he had been convicted and punished for a crime he was not accused of committing. The 2nd District Court of Appeal agreed and overturned the conviction.
But Harris' troubles continued. In 2009, he was accused of gunning down a Dade City drug dealer. Prosecutors said Harris went into Cleo Stinyard's home, which had stockpiles of cocaine and cash, on June 12, 2009, and shot him in the chest and head. But a jury found him not guilty — an almost unheard-of outcome in first-degree murder cases.
Most of the witnesses on both sides had criminal records, with one saying he saw Harris carry out the murder and another saying Harris was being framed for working as a drug informer for the feds.
However, four months later Harris was charged with yet another murder: the 2007 fatal shooting of 24-year-old Sean Alexander Larry Spaights outside a Dade City bar.
The original charge was first-degree murder, but prosecutors reduced it to second-degree murder in exchange for a guilty plea, which Harris made on Thursday. Siracusa gave him 20 years as part of the deal, and threw in 20 years for the robbery. Harris will be allowed to serve both sentences concurrently.
In addition to his court appearances for his own arrests, Harris testified for the prosecution in the trial of Luc Pierre-Charles, who was accused along with Tyree Jenkins of shooting two Wesley Chapel teens execution style on a dark dirt road in Trilby in 2006. Pierre-Charles was convicted but his case was also overturned on appeal.