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Fatal beating was final tragedy

LARGO — Jeffrey Braden was awakened by a yell for help. He got out of bed and went to the living room, where George Wallace normally slept in a recliner.

Wallace, an 85-year-old who used a wheelchair and was hard of hearing, normally fell asleep with the TV blaring and the lights on.

But Braden, who was renting a room from Wallace, noticed the lights were off, the TV silent.

He went to the light switch.

"I couldn't believe what I saw when I turned the lights on," Braden told a jury Tuesday. "George was on the recliner all beaten up. He had blood all over his forehead, his face, his eyes, his body."

Opening statements began Tuesday in the trial of the man prosecutors say killed Wallace during a Jan. 13, 2006, burglary.

Stephen Sterling, 24, is charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors say he and an accomplice broke into Wallace's home, wrapped a comforter around his head and beat him. The burglars then took the man's car.

The accomplice, Eugene Wesley, who was 17 at the time, has agreed to testify against Sterling. In exchange for truthful testimony, Wesley will be allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and receive a 25-year prison sentence.

Sterling faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. The trial is expected to end as early as today.

Prosecutor Glenn Martin told jurors that forensic investigators found Sterling's fingerprints on a window frame where the burglars broke in. They also found his print on a garage door where the burglars exited the home and on the gas cap of Wallace's car.

Sterling's attorney, Charles Lykes, told jurors that Sterling's fingerprints were found because he knew Wallace and had been inside the home to help the elderly man. He said Wesley's testimony will be a lie.

Wallace's death was a tragic end to a life that had endured its share of tragedy.

His daughter vanished in the Colorado mountains in 1974. A few weeks after the disappearance, Wallace's wife killed herself.

His daughter's remains weren't found until 1992. The next year, a jury convicted a man of murdering her.

Fatal beating was final tragedy 08/05/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 7, 2008 5:52pm]

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