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Homeless man pleads no contest to Brooksville property appraiser's murder

BROOKSVILLE — Less than two months after being indicted in the grisly slaying of a prominent Brooksville property appraiser, Monty Albright stood before a judge Friday like a man who knew his fate.

The 35-year-old homeless man appeared calm, if not confident in his convictions. He told the judge he wanted to plead no contest and spend the rest of his life in prison.

He explained it this way to the judge: "I don't want to put the (victim's) family through any more than they have (already). … I'm good with it."

The surprising plea to the murder and kidnapping of Steven Van Slyke, a past president of the Hernando County Association of Realtors, was just another strange twist to a tale involving salacious allegations and many unanswered questions.

On Jan. 19, authorities said, Albright entered Van Slyke's home at 27 Cherry St. on the north side of Brooksville and tied him to a chair. Albright — who was on probation at the time — took his bank card and obtained the access code.

Once he realized it worked, he strangled Van Slyke with a necktie tied to a bedpost, then went on a crack cocaine-fueled spending spree that totaled more than $2,200.

Many of the details are still uncertain because the plea occurred before most of the evidence was analyzed by state officials. But a psychologist who evaluated Albright found him competent to stand trial.

Albright's attorney, Alan Fanter, said he had never concluded a first-degree murder case this quickly.

"It was his idea," said Fanter, the county's top public defender. "He really didn't want to drag it out for the victim's family. You do what your client wants."

The timing even surprised Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing, who asked Albright whether the resolution represented his best interests.

"I think it's in the best interest of the family," Albright said.

"Do you think it's also in your best interest?" the judge asked again.

"Yes," Albright said.

Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino explained that Albright spoke warmly of Van Slyke in his statements to investigators. Van Slyke was the "only one who exhibited favorable contact toward him," the prosecutor said.

Magrino had not made a decision about whether to ask for the death penalty, but he said it was a distinct possibility, given the nature of the crime.

Albright told authorities he had known Van Slyke for three weeks before his death. But Albright's remarks in court indicated a relationship that went beyond a casual acquaintance — a relationship that investigators consider largely a mystery.

Van Slyke apparently had hired Albright to do odd jobs at his home, such as laundry and cleaning.

Albright also told authorities that Van Slyke paid him for sex.

He claimed Van Slyke died when a sex game involving bondage went too far, according to a new document obtained Friday.

The allegation came from an unredacted statement released by the prosecutor's office after a public records request.

Albright said the game was the "victim's fantasy," according to the statement.

But the veracity of that assertion has been questioned by investigators and preliminary medical reports.

"The vast majority of murder defendants … minimize their involvement," Magrino said. "Minimization comes into play even more with sex crimes."

Eric Jessop, Van Slyke's closest friend and business partner, has called Albright's explanation ludicrous.

Jessop previously described Van Slyke, who was gay, as a "flower." He said he was scared of homeless people and would never have allowed himself to be tied up.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Homeless man pleads no contest to Brooksville property appraiser's murder 04/03/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 3, 2009 8:31pm]
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