Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Public safety

Homeless man once acquitted of murder killed in Pinellas bicycle accident

ST. PETERSBURG — A man acquitted of murder in the beating death of a homeless person was hit and killed Saturday while riding a bicycle on Gandy Boulevard.

Patrick Joseph Acquin, 61, was westbound about 2:40 p.m. when he turned north to cycle up the southbound exit ramp of Interstate 275, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. He failed to yield to a 2007 Jeep Wrangler and struck its front. He died at the scene, authorities said.

Court records show that Acquin, who was homeless for many years, had a lengthy criminal record dating to 1979 on charges including battery, burglary and disorderly conduct.

He served two stints in prison, according to state records: 1980-1981 for aggravated battery and 2003-2004 for simple battery and battery on a public servant.

Acquin was nearing the end of his second prison term when he drew his most serious charge: second-degree murder. It stemmed from the death of Donald J. Pare Sr., who was found bludgeoned to death April 19, 1998, beneath a bridge near the Bay Pines VA Medical Center.

Pare's friends told investigators that Acquin was the last person seen with Pare. Both men were homeless. Both had been drinking. Witnesses said Acquin had seemed upset the night before Pare's body was found.

But it took years for authorities to gather evidence. Among the clues were hairs found on Pare's body, which were matched to Acquin through DNA testing. Detectives also learned that Acquin called 911 to report Pare's death but left the scene.

Acquin was sent back to the Pinellas County Jail, where he languished for four years as the case progressed. He tried to fire his attorney, Lane Lastinger, numerous times, even as Lastinger presented evidence that proved crucial to Acquin's eventual acquittal in 2008.

Acquin and Pare both frequented homeless camps. A few hairs on one man's clothing does not necessarily prove murder, Lastinger argued.

"I think the jury agreed with that," Lastinger said. "There just wasn't enough in this case."

The attorney last heard Acquin was living in a homeless camp in the woods near Gandy and Roosevelt boulevards. He occasionally saw his former client wandering the streets and would say hello and give him some money.

"I just think he was kind of anti-social," Lastinger said. "He was very distrustful of people. But he was smart. He would laugh and joke with you."

An investigation of the crash that killed Acquin continued late Saturday. The Jeep driver, Anthony Grieco, 27, and his passenger, Kayla Grieco, 22, both of Plant City, were not injured.

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