NEW PORT RICHEY — Courtney Keeven said she watched her mother's boyfriend beat a man to death with a child's metal bat, white with pink butterflies. The blows fractured half the man's skull, exposing the bone. She said she watched Adam Ekdahl toss the bat into a moonlit river and smile.
"You've never seen me do anything like that before," Ekdahl boasted, according to Keeven's testimony Wednesday in Ekdahl's trial. Ekdahl, 25, is charged with first-degree murder and, if convicted, faces a mandatory life sentence.
Samuel Martinez Pratts was murdered on Nov. 10, 2011, in an abandoned house on U.S. 19 in New Port Richey. Pratts, who had lived in Port Richey and Spring Hill, was 44 and had served time in prison for threatening a deputy and fleeing law enforcement. His family said he worked in a warehouse, had two daughters and was kind. Authorities said he rode his bicycle to the Travel Inn that night with a wad of cash, looking for a party.
What he found, investigators said, were predators.
That day should have been a good day for the people in Room 114. In this cramped space lived Keeven, who was 18 at the time, her younger sister, her mother and Ekdahl, her mother's boyfriend. Keeven, now 19, testified that they supported themselves by selling her mother's prescription pills, which they got at the pharmacy once a month.
Keeven said she woke up early that morning to see her mother and Ekdahl returning from the pharmacy with pills and sacks of McDonald's food for everyone. Keeven said Ekdahl and her mother spent much of the day in the bathroom, crushing and injecting the pills to get high. Keeven stole one of her mother's Xanax pills and smoked several bowls of marijuana. She said she passed out and when she woke up, a stranger — Pratts — was in the bathroom. She said she saw him sitting on the toilet smoking a crack pipe. Ekdahl was in there with him, injecting drugs.
Ekdahl asked Keeven to get Pratts a prostitute. She got her friend, Staci Gurney, now 20, to come over. Keeven said Ekdahl told her he wanted to rob Pratts.
Ekdahl told Keeven that he and her mother had taken all of the pills, so they had nothing. If they didn't rob this man, she said Ekdahl told her, they would have no money and would be homeless. Gurney and another young woman who lived at the motel, Zoraina Castillo, now 19, agreed to help with the robbery.
To lure their victim, Keeven said she asked Pratts if he wanted to have sex with her and Gurney at an abandoned house. Pratts agreed.
Ekdahl and Castillo waited in the pitch black house for the three to arrive, authorities said. Keeven, Gurney and Pratts sat inside a bedroom, the women on a couch, Pratts on the floor. Keeven said she saw a burst of light as Pratts flicked his lighter to light his glass pipe. Then she said she heard a sickening thud as the bat hit Pratts' head. She said Castillo turned on a flashlight so Ekdahl could see as he kept swinging, telling Pratts to not move. She said Ekdahl screamed at her to search for the money in his pants, which she did.
The four of them ran back to the motel, Keeven said, and looked at the loot: keys, a wallet, a bungee cord. The cash wasn't there. Keeven said Ekdahl wanted to go back to the house, which was across the street from the motel. When they arrived, Pratts was alive, staggering, spurting blood throughout the house, holding his head.
"What's going on?" he asked, Keeven testified.
Ekdahl ran at him with the bat, she said.
"This time, he doesn't stop," said Assistant State Attorney Chris Sprowls in his opening argument to the jury. "Not until Mr. Pratts is gurgling, gasping for air. He hits him again and again and again."
The group took Pratts' pants off. They searched the house. They never found the money.
"You see, Mr. Pratts kept his money in his underwear," Sprowls said. "They never thought to look there."
A tipster who heard about the murder called authorities. Pratts' body was found Nov. 14, 2011. The four were soon arrested. The three young women all pleaded to second-degree murder and are serving 20-year prison sentences. According to testimony, Keeven's mother was passed out and her younger sister had left the motel at the time of the murder.
Ekdahl's defense team offered to take a 35-year prison sentence, which the State Attorney's Office rejected.
Ekdahl admits to the robbery, but said he didn't intend to kill Pratts. In an interview with detectives, which was played for the jury, Ekdahl said the women devised the robbery. He said he only hit Pratts a few times. "That dude wasn't supposed to end up dead," Ekdahl said.
He said he never knew Pratts' name and couldn't pick out his photo if asked. He said he went back to the house the next day and was shocked to find Pratts' corpse. "I didn't expect to see him like that," he said.
The trial is expected to finish today. Ekdahl's attorney would not comment on whether Ekdahl will take the stand.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.