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14-year-old fugitive wanted on murder charge caught in Tallahassee

ST. PETERSBURG — One of the city's most wanted — and youngest — murder suspects has been caught, authorities said Wednesday.

Franco Harris Thomas, 14, of Pinellas Park was wanted in connection with the robbery-turned-slaying of a college student in July. He was taken into custody Tuesday night in Tallahassee, St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said.

U.S. marshals found the boy at a relative's home there. Authorities said the boy had initially been spotted playing cards out front. Soon, multiple officers, including two canine units, arrived.

"Thomas did attempt to flee but was apprehended before he could get out of the house," Puetz said.

Thomas is one of three people accused of participating in what authorities called a "heinous" attack on Jeremy Mayers, who was found beaten and unconscious on the front lawn of a Coquina Key home July 8.

Mayers was a 20-year-old St. Petersburg College student who also worked at his neighborhood Sweetbay Supermarket. He was studying music and business.

Days after the slaying, police arrested two 16-year-olds from St. Petersburg: Brittany Detwiler and Scionti Hill. They also said they were looking for a third suspect, later revealing it to be a 14-year-old boy.

"I can't think of the last time that we charged someone so young with first-degree murder," Maj. Mike Kovacsev said.

All three teens have been indicted and will be tried as adults.

That night, authorities said, a group of teens met to hang out at 3632 Sea Robin Drive SE.

Detwiler said she wanted to invite Mayers, whom she had recently met online.

The teens decided to rob him, records said.

Mayers showed up in his green 2000 Chevy Impala.

Police said the teens brutally beat the young man with a shotgun, choked him until he passed out and stole his car, wallet and cellphone.

Authorities didn't discover Mayers' body until hours later, while they were called to the neighborhood for a hit-and-run crash caused by joyriding kids. The two scenes — later determined to be unrelated — were just houses apart.

Mayers was rushed to the hospital, where he died. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office classified his death as a homicide.

Still, the case was a mystery. A teen girl who lived at the house where Mayers was found claimed not to have seen anything. Then she changed her story and admitted that she had seen what happened. Other teens who were at the house that night also told police they had witnessed the beating.

Both Hill and Detwiler gave statements to police.

But authorities believe Thomas' family quickly whisked him out of town and has been hiding him since. Detectives thought he may even have gone to Georgia. Family members promised to turn the teen in, but never did.

"They haven't been overly forthright and cooperative with us," Kovacsev said. "He was on the run for so long, it leads you to believe that he obviously had some assistance from friends or family."

It was unclear Wednesday whether any of those people would face charges.

Thomas' mother hung up on a reporter who called and asked for comment Wednesday. Her son could be brought back to Pinellas County within a week, police said.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643 or on Twitter @cornandpotatoes.

14-year-old fugitive wanted on murder charge caught in Tallahassee 10/03/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 10:02pm]
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