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St. Pete man acquitted of burglary, but police say he's a murder suspect

Christopher Roberson  was acquitted of a robbery charge.

Christopher Roberson was acquitted of a robbery charge.

Christopher Roberson walked out of Pinellas County Jail last week a free man after a jury acquitted him of a home invasion.

And his release instantly became the talk of the courthouse.

That's because although Roberson had spent the last year in jail on the robbery charge, law enforcement agencies suspect him of something much graver.

Roberson, they said, has long been a suspect in a St. Petersburg home invasion and killing last summer. Two men have been charged in connection with the killing, and authorities say there is evidence tying at least one of those suspects to a similar double-slaying in Tampa.

But the 31-year-old Roberson has never been charged in any of these deaths. And it is unclear if he ever will be.

"We can't move forward with any other charges right now," Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said, referring to the Pinellas case.

Last year, police arrested Roberson and two other men in a home invasion that happened just before 5 a.m. June 19, 2012.

The other men, Justin Hart and Charles Stone, also were charged with a home invasion and killing that occurred about half an hour later on the same day. In that case, Rick Shaw, 41, was killed in his home at 7014 Orpine Drive, in the presence of his 18-year-old son.

Court records show St. Petersburg detectives identified Roberson as a suspect in the Orpine Drive killing several months ago. One of the first tips they got was a caller who identified Roberson as the person yelling "Police!" while breaking through Shaw's door.

But he was never charged in the slaying. Instead, he sat in jail on the home invasion charge — and was acquitted of that last week.

"Obviously a jury has spoken, and he got a not guilty," St. Petersburg police Maj. Mike Kovacsev said. "We have to regroup and see how we're going to proceed."

Tampa police have never publicly named a suspect in the April 30 deaths of Lacy Coleman and Terry Harris, who were killed in a home at 8218 N Brooks St.

But Stone told detectives he had information about that crime too.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to charge Roberson in either case falls to prosecutors.

Bartlett acknowledged "the police feel . . . he's responsible for other crimes in the community."

But that's not the same as having enough evidence to prove to a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that someone committed a murder.

Prosecutors need to have a good-faith belief their charges are sufficient to convict someone, Bartlett said. He called that "a prosecutor's code of ethics."

Roberson's attorney, Kelly McCabe, said Roberson is not guilty. She said there is no more evidence tying Roberson to the Pinellas killing than there was to the home invasion, and a jury found him not guilty.

In that trial last week, Hart testified against Roberson and said they both were involved in the first home invasion.

"You have a bunch of co-defendants saying so-and-so-did it, and co-defendants have every reason to say so-and-so did it," she said.

She said it also was telling that Roberson was released from jail last week after the acquittal.

"If these cases were so strong, I think he probably would have been arrested that evening," she said.

Roberson could not be reached for comment. He has posted several messages on Facebook since his release.

He wrote about being able to hold his children for the first time in months. He talked about sex. He wrote he feels blessed.

He posted a smiley face Friday, after the words "not guilty!"

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8232.

St. Pete man acquitted of burglary, but police say he's a murder suspect 08/05/13 [Last modified: Monday, August 5, 2013 8:59pm]
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