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Witnesses describe 2010 Dade City homicide

Harleme Larry, 17, looks at files behind the defense table during his first-degree murder trial Tuesday.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Harleme Larry, 17, looks at files behind the defense table during his first-degree murder trial Tuesday.

DADE CITY — Four Hispanic men sat in a truck bed on Oak Street and drank beer. It was after midnight on July 10, 2010. A young man wearing a backpack and a bandana over his face approached. The bandana was either red or black — witnesses' memories are hazy three years later.

He demanded money, and the men produced what they had — some loose bills and change, no more than four or five dollars.

They offered him beer, one of the men testified in court Tuesday, but he got angry.

The assailant pulled a handgun from the drawstring backpack and fired, killing 31-year-old Agustin Hernandez, a married father of two. Then he ran away.

The shooter, authorities said, was a kid named Harleme Larry. He was 14.

His first-degree murder trial started Tuesday. Now 17, he is charged as an adult and faces life in prison if convicted.

"Agustin Hernandez was murdered over a robbery," Assistant State Attorney Phil Matthey said in his opening statement, "including a fistful of dollars."

Two days after the murder, Matthey said, Larry confessed the crime to deputies. Matthey plans to play that audiotape in court. He said Larry told deputies he threw the handgun into a nearby lake, but a dive team never found it. Investigators did, however, find gunshot residue in a black drawstring backpack found at the house where Larry lived with his grandmother.

In his opening statement, Larry's attorney emphasized the facts of his tragic young life.

"We need to put Harleme Larry into context," Assistant Public Defender Tom Hanlon said. "Harleme's mother died when he was 3. His father was in prison."

Hanlon spoke of Larry's mother, a crack addict and prostitute, who was murdered.

Larry was given to the care of his grandmother, but she fell ill as he became a teen, and caring for him became difficult.

Larry did not commit murder, Hanlon said. He only took the fall for a friend.

The confession? False.

"You're asking me, 'Hanlon, really?' '' he told the jury. " 'False confession? Really?' "

He went on. None of the witnesses to the shooting identified Larry in a photopack, he said.

"It's because Harleme wasn't there," he said.

The true killer was a boy Larry fell in with named Derek. Derek and his aunt drove Larry to the police station, Hanlon said.

"Why would you bring a 14-year-old kid to the police if you're not his mother, you're not anything?" Hanlon said.

One of the men sitting on the truck that night was Luis Quezada.

Through a Spanish language translator, he said he couldn't exactly remember the color of the bandana.

"I remember that he had a cloth," Quezada testified, "but not the color because we were scared."

He said the attacker was 18 or 19, but "could've been younger."

Hanlon, in his cross-examination, asked him if it was true he told detectives his attacker was between 25 and 30. Quezada said he didn't remember.

Alvaro Vallalvaso, another witness, testified, "He was wearing a sleeveless shirt, shorts and something on his face. And something that was covering, something like a bag or something."

The trial continues today.

Witnesses describe 2010 Dade City homicide 06/04/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 10:54pm]

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