Sunday, February 18, 2018
News Roundup

Trial starts in Clearwater taxi driver's 2008 murder

The cabdriver picked up the last fare of his life outside Fat Daddy's Watering Hole in Dunedin.

Less than five minutes later, someone shot him in the head.

Jack LaGrand, a Yellow Cab taxi driver from Clearwater, was working about 1 a.m. on Sept. 17, 2008, when he picked up a man with a skull and rose patterned shirt at the bar and drove him to a shopping center at U.S. 19 and Enterprise Road.

That's where LaGrand, 50, was found the next morning, his bloodied body hanging from the driver's side of his cab, the door open and his keys flung 100 yards away.

It took five years for Clearwater police to make an arrest in LaGrand's murder, after they enhanced security footage and called on the public for help. A witness came forward last year and identified the man in the video as Tisen KaShawn Washington of Port Richey.

Prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder. His trial began Tuesday.

During opening statements, Assistant State Attorney Joshua Riba told the jury they would see no physical evidence connecting Washington, 25, to the crime. No DNA. No fingerprints.

The proof, he said, was in the defendant's T-shirt.

Security footage outside Fat Daddy's in 2008 captured a man entering a cab wearing a shirt adorned with roses and skulls. That same shirt, Riba said, was worn by the man who murdered LaGrand behind the shopping center. Security footage from there shows a man exit the backseat of the cab, move to the driver's side door and leave.

"The man that got out of that cab is the same one that got in it," Riba said.

Defense attorney Richard Watts disagreed.

He said that one of the state's key witnesses, the bartender who said she called the cab for Washington, originally said the man who ordered the ride was Hispanic. She told police she didn't notice any other unique markings on the man.

"I invite you to look at Tisen Washington," Watts said, pointing to the defendant, who straightened his back and leaned forward, turning his head to the left so the jury could see a marble-sized ball of cartilage dangling from his right earlobe.

Washington told police during questioning that he ordered a cab that night. He also said he recognized LaGrand and he owned a T-shirt with roses and skulls.

Watts said that conversation should not be taken at face value.

At the time of his arrest, Washington was already in custody in Pasco County on drug charges. He met with police to discuss his potential role as an informant. For an hour, Watts said, they discussed the drug landscape in Clearwater and agreed to work together. Then, police brought up LaGrand.

Washington was confused when he made admissions about that night, the defense said, and actually took a different cab home. Watts said the bartender has never been able to identify Washington in a lineup.

"In the end, you'll find that Tisen Washington is not the person in that video," he said. "He's not the person that came into that bar. He is not guilty."

The trial will continue this morning.

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