DADE CITY — Robert Anthony Green described in detail to a sheriff's detective how he and friend Antonio Murray broke into a Lacoochee convenience store in 2008 to burglarize it. He said they found the store owner's gun and took turns firing it. One of their bullets struck a sheriff's deputy outside.
Murray took a plea earlier this year and got 25 years in prison.
Green rolled the dice with a jury, which delivered a split verdict Wednesday: Guilty of armed burglary, not guilty of attempted murder. The panel made a specific finding that Green did not possess a weapon during the crime.
Which means Green, 18, could face little or no prison time when he is sentenced next week.
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Authorities said the two teens snuck into Sam's Quick Mart through an air conditioning duct on Aug. 7, 2008. The store alarm went off and deputies responded. The first one on scene saw Murray, then 16, scrambling back up through the duct. Deputy Jeff Chandler arrived second and was walking around the building when he was struck in the chest.
The teens had fired at a metal shutter covering the front of the building, hoping to create a way out. They couldn't see Chandler outside. The bullet was slowed by a business card holder in the deputy's shirt pocket and his bullet-resistant vest. He was unhurt.
The Sheriff's Office swarmed Lacoochee, looking for the shooters. A few days later, as Green, then 15, was riding his bike near his house, two street-unit deputies in military-style garb, one carrying an assault rifle, tackled him.
Authorities contend he was not under arrest at that point. But Green sat in the back of a patrol car until a detective arrived and started questioning him — without first reading his Miranda rights, said his attorney, Dustin Anderson.
In that conversation, Green first denied having anything to do with the burglary. He named Murray.
But later, in a videotaped interview at the sheriff's substation, Green admitted his role.
"I found the gun. I ain't going to lie to you. I shot it," Green told Detective Zak Arey.
He talked about how easy it was to break in and about the jewelry and cell phones they took.
Later, he said, "I just want to do my time and get out."
But Anderson argued to jurors that the confession was coerced and should be disregarded, pointing to Arey's comments urging Green to fess up.
"No, it was Antonio," Green told the detective.
"I think you did it. I can see it in your eyes," the detective responded.
"The only evidence that the state has here is a coerced confession of a 15-year-old boy. That's reasonable doubt," Anderson argued.
The all-female jury deliberated almost three hours.
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Green's conviction has wide-ranging potential outcomes.
On one hand, he could face a minimum of three years and a maximum of 30 years in prison because he was convicted of armed burglary, a first-degree felony.
On the other hand, Green could get no prison time. Jurors made a specific finding that he didn't have a weapon. Anderson argued that knocks the conviction down to a regular burglary — a third-degree felony. That's punishable by a maximum of five years in prison, but because Green has no adult criminal record he would not likely get any prison time.
Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia disagreed, saying that because Green was convicted "as charged" he is still on the hook for the first-degree felony.
It will be up to Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa to determine which sentence applies.
Green's trial also raised new issues for Murray, who pleaded no contest earlier this year to attempted felony murder and armed burglary. Siracusa sentenced Murray to 25 years, Florida's minimum mandatory sentence for that kind of gun crime. But this week, the attorneys discovered that sentence requires the victim to have suffered "death or great bodily harm." Chandler was not injured in the shooting.
Murray could now face a 20-year minimum mandatory, giving him five years of his life back.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.