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Man acquitted in 2011 Clearwater slaying

Michael McKinney was charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Casey Garber.

Michael McKinney was charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Casey Garber.

LARGO — A jury acquitted a 39-year-old man accused of shooting another man in the head in Clearwater nearly three years ago.

In June 2011, Casey Garber's body was found behind the closed Dogwater Cafe in Clearwater near Countryside Mall. Michael McKinney was charged with first-degree murder in Garber's slaying.

A jury on Tuesday found Mc­Kinney not guilty of murder, but did return guilty verdicts on other charges related to the case. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 25.

Prosecutors said McKinney's friend, convicted drug dealer Christopher Mickey, told police that McKinney told him he wanted to kill Garber.

During closing arguments Tuesday, assistant state attorney Greg Baird said McKinney confided his desire to kill Garber because he wanted to impress Mickey.

"That conversation was with someone that he trusted, it was someone he was trying to impress, someone that he wanted to listen to him," Baird said.

On June 25, 2011, Garber and McKinney attended a wedding reception. Hours later, at 12:18 a.m., McKinney called Mickey and told him he had killed Garber, prosecutors said.

Police recorded a subsequent phone call between McKinney and Mickey. Prosecutors say the two were talking about Garber's slaying. During the expletive-filled conversation, McKinney says, "You thought I was full of it, didn't you?"

But defense attorney Jessica Manuele said Tuesday the phone conversation was about a $200,000 drug deal involving McKinney and Mickey. The weekend Garber was killed, McKinney said he was supposed to collect 10 kilograms of cocaine, prosecutors said. But the dealer never showed up.

"They're in this together," Manuele said. "They've both lost money and/or drugs."

Manuele also argued Tuesday that Clearwater police focused their investigation on Mickey's story and didn't follow any other leads. Also, Mickey's interview was not recorded and detectives did not collect all of his cellphones, she said.

After Garber's body was found, police told the public that Garber died of "blunt force trauma," but Mickey told someone that he thought Garber was shot to death. Police didn't follow up, Manuele said.

"If you only look into one person, you're only going to find evidence against one person," she said, adding that Mickey "wanted the police to have the information that he was feeding them. He didn't want them looking at other places."

According to Manuele, days before Garber died, Mickey told McKinney he wanted to kill Garber because he suspected the man was talking to federal investigators about Mickey's drug business. Mickey had even asked McKinney if he knew any hit men, she said.

In addition to the murder charge, McKinney was accused of trying to break into Mickey's home.

Laura C. Morel can be reached at lmorel@tampabay.com.

Man acquitted in 2011 Clearwater slaying 04/15/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 12:11am]
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