TAMPA — For hours, detectives grilled Charles Scoble about the brain injuries that killed his 76-day-old son in 2007. No matter how hard the detectives pressed, Scoble denied knowing anything.
Along came Paul Means, a 13-time felon and veteran 12-stepper who sounded like Dr. Phil. He met Scoble in jail in January. He asked to share Scoble's book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. He got Scoble to talk about his marital problems and his addictions. He told Scoble that truthfulness was the first step to sobriety.
Then Means got Scoble to talk about the night baby Nicholas died. Scoble said he struck and shook Nicholas to make him stop crying. Means had him fill out a written questionnaire, got a jail guard to notarize it and turned it over to the State Attorney's Office.
In court Friday, Means' testimony and a medical examiner's conclusion that Nicholas died of "abusive head trauma" convinced a jury that Scoble, 27, was guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez immediately sentenced Scoble to life in prison.
The strange relationship between Scoble and Means began at the Falkenburg Road jail, where the two shared space in a dormitory-style pod. They admitted to each other they were both men from Mars. Both had rotten experiences with women. Scoble complained that his wife criticized him for everything. He had trouble getting jobs. She worked a night shift while he babysat.
Means said Scoble told him he was smoking marijuana the night of May 13, 2007. "He said the baby was blowing his high," Means testified. "He said he slapped the kid around, tossed the kid in the crib and went back to get high."
Assistant State Attorney Kimberly Hindman said Means' story was consistent with multiple brain injuries revealed in Nicholas' autopsy. A medical examiner said they were the kinds of injuries caused by blows to the head. The autopsy also revealed older brain injuries as well as healed rib fractures.
Scoble's attorneys pointed out that Means is serving a year in jail for probation violations that could have earned him years in prison. They suggested Means stole documents from Scoble and made up a story to win leniency. But Hindman denied she made any deals or promises for his testimony.
Means said he just didn't like what Scoble did. He said he intended all along to help convict him.
Hindman admitted that Means was a classic jailhouse snitch. "If you're ever in jail and Paul Means comes toward you," she told jurors, "run in the other direction."
John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.