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Jury convicts Rangel in first of his two Tampa murder trials

TAMPA — Francisco Rangel wanted to tell jurors he feared for his life the night he shot two friends, killing one. He wanted to say they threatened him with guns.

But if he had testified Thursday, prosecutors might have asked about a police chase the next day that ended in yet another man's death.

So Rangel, 27, chose not to take the stand at the first of his two murder trials.

And on Thursday, after deliberating for about 90 minutes, a jury of six found him guilty of second-degree murder and attempted murder.

Rangel, a man with a pasty complexion who also goes by "Casper," showed no emotional reaction to the verdict, the only teardrop on his face the one tattooed below his eye.

He will be sentenced on Dec. 21 and could face life in prison.

On Dec. 4, 2008, he smoked meth for breakfast and rode around with friends, trying to sell jewelry. Witnesses saw no argument outside a Plant City home before Rangel put a bullet in the chest of Michael Longoria, a 36-year-old father of five.

Rangel fired twice more into him and at least twice into Vidal Quijada, who survived gunshot wounds to the back.

Quijada, now 31, testified that he saw the look on his former friend's face just after the shooting: Rangel wore a grin.

Prosecutors offered no motive for the shootings. In the moments just before the gunshots, one witness heard only laughter.

Rangel's public defender, Gregory Hill, told jurors it was self-defense. He said Longoria and Quijada had been tracking him down that day. Rangel would have told jurors the men wanted to settle a debt.

But Rangel chose not to testify. Anything he said could be used against him at the next murder trial, where he has more to lose than his freedom.

His life will be at stake.

In the second trial, he will face accusations that he was on the run from the Dec. 4, 2008, murder when, during a high-speed chase with deputies, he got out of his SUV, opened fire and killed innocent civilian Candelario Lagunes, 58, with a stray bullet.

For those Dec. 5, 2008, charges, prosecutors are seeking death.

The chase came up in this week's trial as evidence of Rangel's state of mind.

His public defender asked the judge to limit the questions a prosecutor could ask about the second case.

But Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner argued a defendant can't just partially remain silent.

Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles said he would not restrict the questioning.

So, Rangel made his choice.

After the trial, victim Longoria's mother, Lupe Williams, said Rangel would have lied on the witness stand. She doesn't believe her son threatened him.

She said she was happy to watch him get convicted.

"He thought he was going to get away with it," she said.

"But he didn't."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Jury convicts Rangel in first of his two Tampa murder trials 12/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 9, 2010 7:01pm]
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