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Trial under way for Shady Hills man accused of shooting neighbor

NEW PORT RICHEY — Daniel Sawin was lying on the couch watching television when his 10-year-old daughter walked in and said the neighbors were fighting.

"She said it almost in passing," he recalled from the witness stand Tuesday.

Expecting a verbal dispute, Sawin said he walked toward the front door. It was his intent, he said, to calm the two men down that afternoon on April 25, 2009.

When he reached the threshold, it was too late. Seth Sigmon and John Croft stood a few feet apart, face to face. He heard a gunshot. Sigmon, 29, fell to the ground.

"I said, 'Oh my God; he shot him,' " Sawin testified at Croft's manslaughter trial, which began this week. "I pretty much went into panic mode, shook my head and turned away."

Sawin told his wife to call 911.

About 15 minutes later, Sawin said he went outside.

"He was not moving," he said of Sigmon. "He was dead."

Authorities arrested Croft, his then-81-year-old neighbor at 17654 Connie Court in Shady Hills. They said Croft, who was involved in some ongoing disputes with Sigmon, shot him three times with a .22 caliber pistol.

Croft, now 84 and using a cane, maintains he shot Sigmon in self-defense after the younger man nudged him. He told sheriff's deputies after his arrest that he was "angry and scared." He is expected to testify in his own defense. He is not relying on the controversial "stand your ground" law that is being used in the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Croft's attorney, Nick Michailos, said during his opening statement that Sigmon had emerged from his home "like a wild man" toward his client. He also questioned Sawin about a gate on his property that might have obscured his view of the incident. But Sawin said he got a clear view.

"I saw a gun, I saw a shot and I looked away," he said.

Assistant State Attorney Joel Fritton asked whether Sawin saw Sigmon initiate physical contact with Croft.

"No punching, no pushing, no chest bumping?" he said.

"No," Sawin replied.

However, he also agreed with Michailos when he asked if Croft was a "gentle man."

Neighbors say trouble began brewing when Sigmon's pitbull got loose one day, went into Croft's yard and killed his three pet goats. A report was filed with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office when Croft's goats were killed, but nothing in the paperwork indicates who owned the dog or dogs responsible.

On the afternoon of the shooting, the two men had a confrontation at the property line between their houses. Croft fired once, according to the Sheriff's Office report, causing Sigmon to fall to one knee. Croft fired at least two more times while Sigmon was on the ground, the report said, shooting the man in the chest and back.

Witnesses said after the shooting, Croft went inside his home.

Steve Cryoskie, who was a sheriff's deputy at the time, went to the scene. He testified Tuesday that he found Croft on his porch with a partially consumed bottle of beer in his left hand. He went inside and found a .22-caliber pistol on the kitchen table. It contained six shell casings. Three were spent.

Trial under way for Shady Hills man accused of shooting neighbor 05/22/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 8:36pm]
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