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Defendant in St. Petersburg 'homeless' murders pleads guilty

LARGO — Terror gripped the homeless community in early 2007 when two men were murdered on the streets of St. Petersburg on the same night.

It took police three weeks to arrest two young men on murder charges.

On Wednesday, one of those men, Dorion Dillard, 22, pleaded guilty to the murders and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

His alleged accomplice, Cordaro Hardin, 21, is scheduled for trial this summer.

It is not clear if Dillard will testify in that trial.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Hardin — as they were against Dillard before he pleaded guilty.

During the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Dillard apologized to the families of David Heath, 53, and Jeff Shultz, 43. He could not, however, provide the families an explanation for why he killed the men.

"I just want to say, I'd like to express my deepest condolences," said a downcast Dillard, dressed in blue jail scrubs over white long underwear.

"I wish there was something I could tell you," he said. "I'm sorry to each and every one of you."

As his mother watched tearfully from a courtroom bench, Dillard apologized to his own family, as well.

Some family members of the murdered men said they forgave Dillard.

"David Heath's little brother forgives you," said George Castrinos, who traveled from California for the hearing.

Some said they could not.

"I can't forgive you, but I hope you will ask God for forgiveness because I know he will forgive you,'' Heath's mother, June Bartke, said.

Others said they might someday forgive.

"God teaches us as Christians to forgive others who do harmful things to us. But I'm sorry, at this moment I can't forgive you," said Schultz's mother, Barbara Hartz of Fort Myers. "Maybe someday down the road, I don't know. I hope you suffer every day for the rest of your life."

About a half-dozen of Heath's relatives said they wanted the option of hearing more from Hardin while he is in prison. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley took the rare step of modifying the standard no-contact order that normally prevents a murderer from contacting victims' families.

"I don't know why you killed him, but you took away somebody very, very special in our family," Heath's sister Barbara Jones said. "I'd like to communicate with you down the road because I guess I need that for me to be able to forgive you someday."

The murders occurred the night of Jan. 17, 2007, in the 3500 block of Sixth Avenue N and 4300 block of Seventh Avenue N.

Authorities described both victims as transients, though Heath's family said Wednesday that he was not homeless at the time of his death.

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

Defendant in St. Petersburg 'homeless' murders pleads guilty 02/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 10:11am]
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