LARGO — Four young men got into a white Chevy Malibu late the night of Sept. 7, 2008, and when the ride ended, none of their lives would ever be the same.
One man was dead, another injured. A third had to take a life in order to save his own.
And the fourth is on trial this week, charged with kidnapping and second-degree murder for his role in the incident that started, deputies said, with some missing coins.
In opening statements Tuesday in the trial of Abdusbasiyr Blake, 20, Blake's court-appointed attorney, Cynthia Bryant, said her client had no knowledge a crime was about to occur when he went out that night with friend Javon Strange and his foster brother, Juan Carlos Morales.
"My client did not pull any trigger. He did not shoot at anyone. He called 911," Bryant said. "It was not his intent to commit a kidnapping. He did not assist in it or act in concert with those who did."
But Blake was charged with murder under a state law that says a person found guilty of committing a felony in which someone dies as a result can be charged with murder, even if that person is not the one who pulled the trigger.
According to Pinellas County sheriff's deputies, Blake, Strange and Morales went to an Oldsmar motel that night looking for Sean Gerstmann. According to Morales, who was tried separately in July, Blake believed Gerstmann had stolen some rare coins from him.
The young men didn't find Gerstmann, but did find one of Gerstmann's friends. Gregory Longley was sitting outside the motel when the group pulled up.
Deputies said Longley was forced into the car at gunpoint. Longley has said previously he heard the group plotting to kill him and started planning his escape.
Blake was driving, Morales was in the front passenger seat. Longley sat in the back next to Strange, who had the gun, deputies said.
When Strange put the gun in his lap and began text-messaging, Longley grabbed the weapon and shot Strange. Then he shot Morales and ordered Blake to stop the car, deputies said.
Blake complied and Longley got out. Blake then drove to a McDonald's restaurant and called 911, Bryant said.
Strange, 18, died at the scene.
Morales, who was 17 at the time, was shot in the head but survived. In July, a jury convicted him of kidnapping, but acquitted him on a second-degree murder charge. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Longley was never charged, after authorities concluded he acted in self-defense.
The first deputy to arrive at the McDonald's that night testified Tuesday that Blake was crying, hysterical and "hyperventilating" when he first saw him.
Wearing khaki pants, a blue shirt and a tie, Blake sat quietly Tuesday with his hands folded in his lap when attorneys held a conference at the bench with Pinellas-Pasco Judge Philip Federico.
Sitting behind him, Blake's father, Randall Jerry, said he had flown to Florida from Virginia to support his son during the trial, but declined to comment about the case.
Prosecutor Jeremiah Allen said Blake told detectives that he actively participated in the kidnapping, a felony that caused Strange's death.
"Mr. Blake admits being in that vehicle and admits he touched Mr. Longley and escorted him into that automobile," Allen said.
Longley is expected to testify when the trial resumes today.