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Witness in Pinellas murder trial faults charge

LARGO — The state's star witness in a kidnapping and murder trial says he believes prosecutors were wrong to seek a second-degree murder charge in the case.

"I guess I just disagree with the law," Gregory Longley said after testifying Wednesday in the kidnapping and second-degree murder trial of 20-year-old Abdusbasiyr Blake.

The trial, in its second day, went to the jury late Wednesday afternoon. The jury had not reached a verdict as of press time Wednesday night.

According to prosecutors, Blake, Javon Strange and Juan Carlos Morales forced Longley into a car at gunpoint in Oldsmar in September 2008. The three were looking for a man Longley knew, Sean Gerstmann.

Blake believed that Gerstmann had stolen some rare silver dollar coins from him and intended to confront him, authorities said.

Blake was driving and Morales was in the passenger seat. Strange sat next to Longley in the back. Strange and Morales both had guns, Longley said.

Longley, now 22, of Palm Harbor said he feared for his life because the teenagers had threatened to kill him if he didn't help them find Gerstmann.

That's when Longley realized he had just two choices, he said:

"Kill, or die."

When Strange put his gun down to send a text message, Longley, who is proficient with firearms, grabbed the weapon and shot Strange in the head. Strange, 18, died at the scene. Longley then turned the gun on Morales and shot him in the head.

"Two men can overpower one and there was another firearm in the front seat," Longley explained during the trial.

Deputies later determined the second weapon was a pellet gun painted to look more dangerous.

The State Attorney's Office charged Blake and Morales with second-degree murder under a Florida law that says a person who commits a felony crime bears responsibility if another person dies during the commission of the crime.

Morales, now 19, recovered from his injury and was tried separately this summer. He was convicted of kidnapping, but acquitted of murder, and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

"I'm glad Morales didn't get (the murder conviction). I hope (Blake) doesn't either," Longley said. "He (Blake) didn't kill anyone."

But both young men need to be held accountable for the kidnapping, Longley said.

Longley said his father, who is retired from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, began teaching him how to use firearms when he was about 6 or 7 years old.

Longley said he does not harbor any guilt about taking a life because he knows he did not have a choice.

"I had to do what I had to do," he said. "I've always thought I could defend myself if I had to. It's just good to know that I can."

Though he doesn't agree with the law that brought a murder charge against Blake, Longley said he believes authorities got one important thing right.

"I'm just really glad the criminal justice system protects those willing to protect themselves."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Witness in Pinellas murder trial faults charge 10/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 7:55pm]
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