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Trial begins in St. Petersburg 'homeless murders' case

LARGO — They were called the "homeless murders."

But to June Bartke, that phrase is just one more source of pain, adding to the agony of losing her son in a senseless 2007 shooting.

Bartke, 74, came here from Leesburg this week to attend the murder trial of Cordaro Hardin, one of the two men accused of killing her son David Heath and another man named Jeff Shultz.

More than a dozen other family members have joined her at the Pinellas Criminal Courts Complex, including five who flew in from California and one from Seattle.

They are here, she said, because her son was not a forgotten transient, as the "homeless murders" tag suggests. He was a loving dad, a Christian, a man with many friends dating back to his days at Boca Ciega High School.

He was a man with a cocaine problem, she said, but one who never stopped trying to quit.

"Our hope was that he would have a normal life and that he would be David Heath again," she said.

In his opening statements Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser described the Jan. 17, 2007, shootings as senseless.

That night, Hardin and his friend Dorian Dillard saw Shultz, 43, riding his bicycle in the 3500 block of Sixth Avenue N in St. Petersburg. They confronted him and then shot him "for no apparent reason," Rosenwasser said.

About an hour later, they ran into Heath, 53, who was just a few blocks away from a friend's house where he planned to spend the night in a backyard hammock, the prosecutor said. He also was shot and killed.

One witness testified Tuesday that he saw both Hardin, 21, and Dillard, 22, with guns on the night of the shooting, and saw them duck into an alley with a man matching Shultz's description. Afterward, he heard gunshots.

After the shootings, the prosecutor said, Hardin and Dillard returned to the home where they both lived, and laughed as they saw news of the crime on television. Rosenwasser said they admitted to the shootings in front of a witness.

The prosecutor said the same guns were used in both crimes.

Defense attorney Daniel M. Hernandez called the evidence against Hardin lacking. Hardin "had no part in these shooting deaths," he said, adding that Hardin "has been made a fall guy."

Hernandez said the state's case is built on "witnesses with serious credibility issues and/or motivations to lie."

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Hardin.

Dillard pleaded guilty last year to the murders and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There is a chance he might testify for the defense in this trial, which is expected to last through the week.

Bartke said that she knew this would be a hard week for her, but that at least it would give her a fuller picture of what happened to her son.

But Tuesday afternoon, she realized she couldn't bear to look at that picture. When witnesses began to testify about the events leading up to the shootings, she left the courthouse.

"I didn't want to hear it," she said later. "I thought I did, but I didn't."

Trial begins in St. Petersburg 'homeless murders' case 01/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 10:21pm]
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