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Pasco County shooting case ends in plea to lesser charge after witness balks in court

NEW PORT RICHEY — Since he was shot in the hand and the arm two years ago by a man with dreadlocks who was trying to steal his money, Damian Eagan has pointed to one person as the gunman: Mariuntay Murray.

Murray was a casual friend. His brother had dated Eagan's sister. Prosecutors say that in January 2008, Murray took part in a plot to rob Eagan of $4,000 in cash he was carrying.

Eagan, who has several felony convictions on his record, was reluctant to help authorities find his attacker. But he identified Murray in a photo lineup and said in sworn testimony that Murray shot him.

Murray, who was charged with attempted first-degree murder and robbery, went on trial Wednesday.

Eagan, the first witness called to the stand, changed his story.

Under direct examination by Assistant State Attorney Bryan Sarabia, Eagan said he wasn't "100 percent sure" who shot him.

"Were you 100 percent sure when you (identified him) back in February 2008?" Sarabia asked.

"I don't know," replied Eagan, 25, who is now serving a prison sentence for selling cocaine and fleeing an officer.

When his testimony ended, so did Murray's trial.

Sarabia reduced the attempted murder charge — which carried a possible life sentence — to felony battery and dropped the robbery charge. Murray, 19, pleaded guilty to the battery and received a two-year prison sentence. He'll serve less than a year because of the time he has spent behind bars awaiting trial.

Sarabia said afterward that he had little choice.

"Apparently, today (Eagan) did not know who the person was that shot him," he said.

It was the second blow to the prosecution of the Jan. 19, 2008, shooting in Holiday. That night, Sarabia said in his opening argument, Eagan was hanging out with Terrell Murray, Mariuntay's brother, at a home on Knollwood Drive. Eagan showed him a big wad of cash he had in his trunk to buy a car. After the two split up, authorities said, Terrell Murray called his brother to hatch a plan to rob Eagan.

Later, at a house party on Jackson Drive, Terrell Murray and a man named Maurice Henderson showed up. Terrell wandered off, Sarabia said, and Henderson suggested that he and Eagan go look for him as a guise to get Eagan outside.

They got into Eagan's car, with Henderson riding shotgun, and were quickly blocked in by a white Chevy Impala. A man with shoulder-length dreadlocks approached and put a shotgun to Eagan's face, demanding the cash. Eagan grabbed the barrel and pushed it away, but it fired, hitting both him and Henderson.

Henderson was later charged with attempted robbery and went to trial in August 2008. A jury convicted him of a lesser charge of attempted grand theft — a charge, it turns out, that does not exist.

The State Attorney's Office noticed the error and a week later moved to have Henderson's conviction and sentence vacated. He cannot be tried again because of the constitutional ban on double jeopardy.

The only person held accountable in the crime was Terrell Murray. He pleaded to an attempted robbery charge and is serving three years in prison, followed by 10 years of probation. He was also set to testify Wednesday after initially fingering his brother as the shooter. But like Eagan, Sarabia said, he was a less-than-cooperative witness.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Pasco County shooting case ends in plea to lesser charge after witness balks in court 01/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 8:50pm]
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