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Testimony: Obsessive ex-boyfriend killed man mistaken for rival in Plant City

TAMPA — The murder defendant's ex-girlfriend described him as a hoarder, a guy who couldn't throw out a newspaper, even papers years old. He held onto stacks of Publix grocery receipts. He had piles of old computer parts and cables.

Prosecutors say he couldn't bear losing his girlfriend, either.

They say Leonel Marquetti's obsessiveness and jealousy led him to kill a wrongly perceived rival.

On Wednesday, Marquetti's former girlfriend told a jury how she saw him fatally shoot a handyman on her porch in Plant City on March 25, 2010. She said Marquetti jumped from his car, bounded across her yard, and once on the porch began firing a semiautomatic pistol. The shooter, she said, never spoke a word.

She said he shot her handyman and friend Michael Hurlbutt, 41, in the chest. When the victim fell face-down, she said Marquetti stood over him, panting heavily, both hands on the gun, and shot him twice more.

Than she said Marquetti stepped to the side, aimed and fired a fourth and final shot.

A medical examiner said two bullets pierced the victim's aorta, the major vessel from the heart. Hurlbutt probably died within seconds.

The former girlfriend, a German-born dog breeder named Siglinde Sperber, testified Wednesday before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Emmett Battles. Marquetti was her boyfriend for more than 10 years. He is charged with first degree murder and could get life in prison without parole if convicted.

Sperber testified in a monotone. She didn't look at the defendant except when asked to point him out.

Marquetti, 51, a former high school basketball star who is 6 feet 7 and weighs 300 pounds, showed no emotion.

She described a long period of harassment before the shooting. They had bought the house in 2007, after dating off and on for years. She was going to breed Great Danes. He was going to grow lychee trees.

But after a year and a half in the house, their relationship fell apart, and he moved into a separate bedroom.

After that, Sperber said, she discovered a baby monitor under her bed. She said Marquetti admitted putting it there to keep track of whom she called. Later, she said she found a hidden camera in the garage. She said he wanted to monitor who came and went.

In 2009, Sperber said, he went berserk over a neighbor's gossip about Hurlbutt's visits. She had hired Hurlbutt to do repairs. They worked out an arrangement where she would pay him with a Great Dane puppy.

When Marquetti confronted her about the gossip, she said he lost control, panting like a "bull in a ring." He grabbed her by the hair and threw her against a wall.

Because of that, she insisted he move out.

Once he moved to an apartment, she said he called constantly. Phone records show periods when he called minute after minute. He didn't threaten her when he called, she said, but never let up.

The shooting occurred after Hurlbutt had accompanied Sperber on a morning trip to Gainesville to deliver a sick Great Dane to a University of Florida veterinarian.

When they got back, Hurlbutt washed his hands in the kitchen and joined Sperber on the porch. Just before he was shot, she said he cried out, "Oh, my God!"

After the shooting, she said Marquetti pointed the gun at her as she backed inside the house.

"I was saying, 'We have to save him,' " Sperber said. She said she dialed 911, but Marquetti grabbed the phone from her. She tried reaching for the phone again, she said, and he put it in his pocket.

"I said anything I could think of to calm him down," Sperber testified. "I said, 'We can save Michael.' I said, 'We can save our relationship. I'll get you a lawyer.' "

After a few minutes, she said, he walked outside and dialed 911 himself.

The trial continues today.

Early in the week, Marquetti's public defender, Greg Hill, promised the jury that Marquetti would tell what happened in his own words.

Hill said they would see it was a "very unfortunate accident."

An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect age for Hurlbutt.

John Barry can be reached at or (813) 226-3383.

Testimony: Obsessive ex-boyfriend killed man mistaken for rival in Plant City 04/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 21, 2011 4:07pm]
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