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Decapitation earns man life in prison

LARGO — The prosecution and defense agreed on this: Dennis George Roache killed a man by cutting off his head in 2002.

On Friday, the jury decided it was murder.

The panel of nine women and three men found Roache guilty of first-degree murder after two hours of deliberations and two weeks of testimony and evidence.

They rejected the defense's argument that Roache was physically, but not mentally, responsible for the murder — that he should have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Tonya Shannon sat through the whole trial, even when they showed photos from the crime scene. The ones that showed her son's head split in half.

She has no doubt that the man who decapitated her son needs help.

Often times, so does she.

• • •

Roache is a paranoid schizophrenic who had been ill for years when he broke into an ex-girlfriend's St. Petersburg home wielding a machete.

The defense said he imagined hearing voices from the radio telling him his children there were in danger.

But his children weren't there, the prosecution argued, and Roache became violently jealous when he found Gregory Shannon, 18, in bed with his ex-girlfriend.

Roache had threatened Shannon weeks before. Thus, the state argued, he killed with premeditation.

Roache displayed Shannon's head on a car hood outside, placed a mirror in front of his victim's face, then surrendered peacefully to police.

• • •

Tonya Shannon could hardly believe it that day, Feb. 4, 2002, when police said her son was dead. When they described how he died, she walked out of the room.

"I just didn't believe it," she said. "I was in a maze, out of my mind."

She rushed to juvenile detention to get her other son, Jeremy. "We laid down and cried," she said.

That son was never the same after his brother's murder, the mother said. A year later Jeremy Shannon was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempted robbery. He gets out in 2014.

In July, Tonya Shannon's father, Little George Shannon, died in Apopka. He could no longer bear to live in St. Petersburg after his grandson's murder.

The girlfriend that the defendant and victim once shared had children by both men. The half-siblings were adopted by different families, Tonya Shannon said.

Tonya said she battles depression and once thought of suicide. "I wanted to jump off the Skyway," she said.

"But I have another child. I have to live for him, too."

• • •

The defendant's father, Ellis Roache, sat through the whole trial, too. He and Tonya Shannon finally spoke Friday, while the jury deliberated.

"He just explained to me that he was sorry," Tonya Shannon said. And she said he offered to help her pay for a headstone.

Six years later, Gregory Shannon's grave still lies unmarked.

• • •

After the verdict, Circuit Judge Robert Morris Jr. immediately sentenced Roache, 40, to life in prison.

"Thank you Jesus," cried Tonya Shannon.

She was finally happy, she said. Her wish had been granted. The man who killed her son would "never, ever, ever see the light."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at or (727) 893-8472.

Decapitation earns man life in prison 10/03/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 5, 2008 10:45am]
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