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Shooter pleads guilty to 2008 Clearwater slaying, gets 40-year sentence

LARGO — A 38-year-old man who killed his former girlfriend's new lover two years ago pleaded guilty to a lesser charge Tuesday and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Gary E. Averill Jr., whose trial was scheduled to start Tuesday, accepted a plea agreement that dropped the charge from first-degree to second-degree murder.

Averill, who did not have a fixed address at the time of his arrest, was accused of shooting 28-year-old Michael Harris four times at close range on Oct. 18, 2008.

At the time, Harris was dating Averill's ex-girlfriend, Barbara Hall.

According to Clearwater police, Averill went to the home at 1364 Friend Ave., where Hall and Harris were staying, about 4:30 a.m. and knocked on the door.

When Hall answered the door, Averill, who was wearing a mask, ordered her to the ground. When Harris came to the door, Averill shot him and ran away, police said.

After his arrest two days later, Averill told police that he believed Harris was abusing children at the home, but authorities said they did not have any evidence to suggest that was the case. A Clearwater police spokesperson said Averill's motive for the crime appeared to be a love triangle.

Police said Averill planned the crime after they found that he had cut a hole in a fence at the edge of the property to gain access to the home several hours before the shooting.

Averill must serve at least 25 years of the 40-year sentence, because he used a gun to commit a felony in which someone died, said his attorney Victoria Holmberg.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Shooter pleads guilty to 2008 Clearwater slaying, gets 40-year sentence 11/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 9:56pm]

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