NEW PORT RICHEY — Tammy Lee Bowles' family celebrated her 48th birthday Thursday by watching the man who took her from them be led away to prison.
A jury deliberated about 90 minutes before finding Lawrence Kenneth Tener guilty of first-degree murder in the 2004 killing. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, the only possible sentence after prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty.
Prosecutors had presented a taped confession, DNA evidence and numerous witnesses tying Tener to the crime.
"What a blessing," Johnny Bowles, Tammy Bowles' brother, said after the verdict, calling it a wonderful birthday present for his sister.
Authorities say Tener, then 22, met the 43-year-old Bowles at the Edge bar one night shortly before Halloween that year and took her back to his mobile home. He claimed he snapped when he caught her trying to leave with a 10-pound bag of his marijuana, and he struck her with an ax handle, leaving deep skull fractures.
She was found two months later, buried in a shallow grave on his property, which was guarded by more than a dozen pit bull terriers in a swampy, desolate corner of Moon Lake. Bowles, a mother of four, was wrapped in a sheet and naked from the waist down.
In his closing argument, Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis compared pieces of physical evidence against Tener's story, telling jurors it just didn't add up.
"This lady is about to steal 10 pounds of pot, running out of a door, where dogs are barking, with no lights and then run a quarter of a mile on a dirt road to somewhere we don't know, leaving her slacks behind," Halkitis said. "It doesn't make sense, does it?"
More likely, he said, was that Tener tried to have sex with her, she resisted and tried to flee, so he killed her.
It was similar to another brutal crime against a woman by Tener. Two months after meeting Bowles, authorities said, Tener met Joanna Herman at the same bar in Moon Lake, and later beat her up in a jealous rage.
While investigating that crime, detectives picked up tips that led them to Bowles' body.
Tener's attorneys said that Tener accepted responsibility for Bowles' death, but that he was guilty of manslaughter, not murder.
Assistant Public Defender Michael Tewell said Tener had succumbed to "an explosion of anger" when he swung the ax handle at Bowles but did not form a conscious intent to kill her, as required of a first-degree murder conviction.
Tener showed no reaction to the verdict Thursday. He never took the witness stand after initially signaling he would.
Bowles' family members — including her four grown children — held hands and cried as the gruesome, three-day trial wound down.
Johnny Bowles said of his sister, who was 5-feet-1 and about 95 pounds, "If you knew her, you'd have loved her."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.