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Murder trial begins for man who ran St. Petersburg halfway house

Troy Anthony Charles shot to death the boyfriend of one of his clients.

Troy Anthony Charles shot to death the boyfriend of one of his clients.

Troy Anthony Charles presented himself as a lifeline, a man who helped addicts battle their demons by welcoming them into his St. Petersburg anti-drug program, Back to Life Outreach Recovery Services.

But on April 2, 2012, Charles fired a bullet into Samuel Harper's head. Charles went on trial Monday, accused of murdering Harper, the boyfriend of a woman he was purportedly trying to help in his program.

"As Mr. Harper stood there in his own bedroom, unarmed, half-naked, Mr. Charles shot him in the forehead, killing him," Assistant State Attorney Justin Peterson said in his opening statement.

Defense attorney Jervis Wise said it was self-defense.

Charles was featured in a 2012 Tampa Bay Times series about questionable, largely unregulated drug halfway houses, which showed that some are run by violent felons, and others have become havens of drug activity.

Charles had served prison time in Arizona for aggravated assault, and racked up multiple other arrests before moving to St. Petersburg and starting Back to Life, the series revealed.

But the trial this week in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court is not about Charles' drug rehab credentials. It's also not about whether he fired the shot that killed Harper. It's about why he did.

Harper ran Back to Life out of a building at 2211 44th St. S. Some people lived there, dormitory style, and attended counseling sessions. A woman who was in the program lived nearby at 4698 22nd Ave S, along with her boyfriend, Harper, 41.

Peterson, the prosecutor, said Charles had developed "an interest" in Harper's girlfriend. He went to the apartment and checked on her frequently. There had been arguments between him and Harper.

Then in the wee hours of April 2, 2012, Charles showed up at the couple's home and entered without permission, Peterson said. At the time, the couple was in bed watching television.

Charles had a silver and black handgun. He seemed intoxicated. Another man had come with him.

The woman got up and asked what he was doing there. Harper got up, too, dressed in boxer shorts. Charles put the gun to Harper's forehead, Peterson said.

"This man shot an unarmed man, 2:30 in the morning, sitting in his bedroom," Peterson said, pointing to Charles.

Wise, the defense attorney, said Charles ran the facility that provided drug counseling for many who couldn't get it elsewhere. Harper, he said, had become "a wolf among the sheep that Mr. Charles looked after." In fact, Harper had previously threatened Charles, he said.

When Charles went to Harper's home, "it escalates very quickly," Wise said.

"You're going to hear that Mr. Charles, like anyone else who has been in that position, had a reason to be in fear. And he acted out of self-defense. And that's what led to Mr. Harper's death," Wise said.

The trial is expected to conclude this week.

Murder trial begins for man who ran St. Petersburg halfway house 07/07/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2014 8:55pm]
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