Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

Pinellas mother's quest to solve son's killing finally reaches trial

LARGO — The prosecutor called it a "Godfather-style" execution that left two men dead at a warehouse, and another man with five gunshot wounds as he hid outside in the dark.

But as Assistant State Attorney Mark McGarry told a jury all the bloody details Tuesday, a subplot emerged in this murder trial.

It was the story of a mother, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, and how she wouldn't stop pushing for answers after the death of her son, Cabretti Jalil Wheeler, and the other man, Kyle Lynn Elllis, in September 2008.

McGarry said the evidence points definitively to Jerry Tyrone Jones, 24, who is charged with two murders and one attempted murder. McGarry also said there is another man responsible who has not yet been found.

But Assistant Public Defender Stacey Schroeder had a much different explanation for the case against Jones.

"This is a case of mistaken identity," she said.

The two men killed were shot multiple times — four bullets for one, nine for the other — at a warehouse that housed Dat's Right Audio and other businesses at 8191 46th Ave. N, in unincorporated Pinellas County north of St. Petersburg.

The man who survived the attack lived in a loft-style apartment in the area, and heard something like firecrackers, McGarry said. When he went downstairs to investigate, a man hit him in the head with a pistol. He rushed into a bathroom and locked himself inside.

Later, he came out, but things got worse — someone shot him five times.

Prosecutors played a 911 tape of him desperately asking for an ambulance, saying "My head's split open, I'm bleeding everywhere," and "I'm sitting here bleeding all over the place … please get somebody here."

McGarry explained how the Pinellas Sheriff's Office brought in an "armada" of technicians to go over every scrap of fiber in the warehouse. Still, no arrests were made for more than two years.

"Some things probably weren't followed up that should have been," McGarry acknowledged.

But, he added, "It never stopped with Lisa Wheeler. She worked on this case every day."

She wore a T-shirt with her son's picture every day. She visited the survivor in the hospital.

And she picked up a few tips here and there — such as that the killer might have a vertical scar on his forehead. Later, McGarry said, when detectives revived the case, they followed up on notes in another detective's notebook — with some of the same details.

McGarry noted that Jones has an indentation in his forehead, and said the man who survived the attack picked him out of a collection of six photos. He also said a car sale tied Jones to one of the businesses in the warehouse.

And, he said, while Jones was in jail he confided to another inmate that he was the killer.

Schroeder, the defense attorney, said the so-called armada of technicians never found any evidence tying Jones to the scene. She said a composite sketch prepared with the surviving man's assistance did not show the forehead scar.

After fighting for years for this trial, Lisa Wheeler-Brown said she was dealing with plenty of emotions now that the case finally has arrived in court.

"I've been nervous, very anxious," she said. "It brings it all back."

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