LARGO — Lloyd "Pooh" Neal was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Julian "Rat Rat" Kaigler, stemming from an attempted robbery on Valentine's Day 2007 in the parking lot of Clearwater's Palmetto Park housing project.
Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 11 and the state will seek mandatory life imprisonment without chance for parole.
The conviction marks a breakthrough for police, who previously struggled in the investigation to convince North Greenwood residents to talk.
The community is a historically black section of Clearwater, and police have worked in recent years to quell distrust between residents and authorities.
At several North Greenwood Community meetings in 2007, police urged residents to break the silence and help prevent crime in their community.
"We have black-on-black crime that goes unsolved because no one speaks to the detectives," said former police spokesman Wayne Shelor. "We need help solving these crimes."
It was residents' help, attorneys and police say, that helped solve the crime.
Following closing arguments, jurors deliberated for just over an hour before returning the verdict, culminating a three-day trial.
"The evidence was clear," said assistant state attorney Frank Piazza. Consistent witness stories, the prosecution stressed, was a key element in landing the conviction.
On Tuesday, Neal, 19, became agitated and requested to leave the courtroom, despite Judge Richard Luce's recommendation that he stay. But on Wednesday, Neal appeared calm, remaining stoic throughout the session.
He didn't address the court, and leaned over just a few times to whisper to his attorney.
During closing arguments by assistant state attorneys Piazza and Greg Baird, the prosecution reiterated that numerous witnesses all pointed to Neal. They heard Kaigler plead for help: "I ain't got nothing," he yelled, as Neal attempted to rob him, Baird said.
Kaigler's cousin, Antonio Hall, took the stand in recent days and identified Lloyd "Pooh" Neal as the killer.
Kaigler didn't get a break that night when he begged, "Don't do it. Don't do it," Piazza said during the closing statement.
Though Neal is young, Piazza asked jurors not to treat him with sympathy.
In the aftermath of Kaigler's death, Kaigler's friends said he was popular throughout the North Greenwood community.
"He dressed well — morning, noon, night, even on bad days," Vicky Manuel said at the time.
And while county records show Kaigler had previously been arrested on several counts of possessing and selling drugs, prosecutors said he never deserved to die.
The defense, meanwhile, questioned the reliability of Hall's testimony during its closing statement. Hall has admitted doing drugs and drinking alcohol that night, and Neal's attorney John Thor White asked the jury to consider the validity of his testimony during its deliberation.
But in the end, the evidence against Neal was too much for the jury to overlook.
White did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon and it's unclear whether Neal will seek an appeal.
Brian Spegele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4154