Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Trial starts in burning death of homeless woman in Pinellas

LARGO — On an October night in 2010, someone doused Jennifer Guthrie in gasoline and lit her on fire.

Her charred body was found behind a trash bin at what was formerly Wachovia Bank, 14147 Walsingham Road, where she and her boyfriend, Jeffrey Robert Grant, had been sleeping. Both were homeless.

Two witnesses came forward, revealing chilling proclamations Grant had made about Guthrie in the days leading up to her death. He said she made him crazy, and he said he was going to kill her, they said.

Then, according to prosecutors, he did.

Three months later, Grant, 41, was charged in connection with her death. His first-degree murder trial began Monday.

During opening statements, Assistant State Attorney Chris Ballard wove a narrative that he said would lead the jury to find Grant guilty of premeditated murder.

In the days leading up to her death, Guthrie and Grant were looking for somewhere to stay. They met a homeless man, who brought them food and said they could set up camp in the area behind the bank, Ballard said.

The prosecutor told the jury that Grant then asked the man: "What do you do when you love somebody but want to kill them?"

Ballard told the jury other witnesses will testify that Grant said Guthrie was always complaining, and that if she didn't stop, he was going to kill her.

He gave them a glimpse into the graphic nature of photos they will be shown, like pictures of Guthrie's body, burned beyond recognition. Guthrie's lungs were filled with gasoline and she died of thermal injuries, Ballard said, "which means she was burned alive and burned to death."

But when it was his turn, defense attorney Bill Bennett questioned prosecutors' version of events, insinuating that another homeless man who argued over the campsite with Grant could have been the one who lit the fire. He said Grant was cooperative with the investigation and upset at the crime scene, qualities of an innocent man.

Most importantly, he said, "Nobody saw how the fire was started."

Investigators collected Grant's clothing and never found accelerant in the fabric, but delayed collecting the clothing of the other homeless man and waited until this year to test for gasoline. Forensic specialists found no trace of the accelerant, but Bennett said that could have been because the clothing was stored in paper bags that allow for evaporation.

The trial will continue today.

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