Saturday, May 26, 2018
Public safety

Two arrested in Citrus Park triple shooting

TAMPA — Jason Mark Burnett heard there were drugs in the house on Manhattan Drive, deputies say. Prescription pills and marijuana. Maybe some money.

On Sunday morning, Burnett, a man with a long list of felonies and three prison stints, walked into the beige stucco home with a gun, authorities say. Three women were inside.

Burnett, 37, shot 52-year-old Nell Mason in the back, then her roommate Fern Giddings, 56, according to an arrest affidavit.

Then he walked to the bathroom where Mason's daughter, Christina Soto, 35, was showering, according to the affidavit. Burnett shot her twice in the head.

Mason's son, Chaz Mason, 18, discovered the bloody scene. He and a friend had returned home with a bag of marijuana Sunday morning and found the shooter still inside. The pair ran away, according to the affidavit, and Mason made it to a Sheriff's Office district headquarters near Westfield Citrus Park mall.

When deputies arrived a little after 11 a.m. to the house at 7420 Manhattan Drive, they found Soto alive and conscious. They believe she will survive, despite being shot in the head.

Nell Mason died at the hospital. Giddings was already dead.

And Burnett had fled the scene, according to deputies.

Authorities began to suspect him after talking to Soto and neighbors. Chaz Mason and his friend picked Burnett out of a photo pack.

He was already suspected in two home invasion robberies earlier that day in Pasco County. Burnett entered two houses and stole a cellphone, money and a 2000 Ford F-150, deputies say.

Later Sunday morning, Burnett told his friend Gary Honish, 47, of Tampa to drive him to the Manhattan Drive address. According to deputies, Honish knew the women and told Burnett there would be drugs and money.

Honish later told investigators he had waited in the car while Burnett went inside. When Burnett returned, he had prescription pills in his hand and told Honish he had "robbed them."

Deputies caught up to Honish on Sunday afternoon at a hotel on Hillsborough Avenue. Then authorities followed Burnett's wife, who led them to a house in South Tampa, where deputies found Burnett hiding in the attic.

Inside the house at 4627 W El Prado Blvd., deputies say they found a .357-caliber revolver they believe was used in the killings.

Burnett admitted to being involved in the Pasco robberies but said he didn't have a gun. He denied going to the house on Manhattan Drive, the affidavit states.

Deputies arrested him on two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, robbery and aggravated assault. Honish faces charges of robbery and being an accessory after the fact.

On Monday, family members of Nell Mason gathered at the house and spoke of a kind and generous woman who took in friends and family when they needed a place to stay. That's why her friend Giddings was at the house. She had moved in several weeks ago — about the same time Mason's husband died of cancer.

Mason was on disability and took medication, said her sister-in-law, Glenda Williams, 24.

Deputies said women at the house sold drugs. Mason's family blamed Giddings.

Giddings has two arrests in her past: violating an injunction and battery. Both cases were dropped, according to state records.

Mason has been arrested about a dozen times in Florida on charges including aggravated assault, trespassing, larceny, probation violation, battery, possession of cocaine and writing a worthless check. Most of the charges were dropped.

Soto has been arrested before on battery charges. In 2010, she pleaded guilty to a domestic battery charge in Hillsborough, state records show.

None of their arrest records compares with Burnett's — he is classified as a "career offender."

In 1994, he was convicted of burglarizing a home and beating a dog to death.

He later racked up robbery, criminal mischief and aggravated child abuse charges. In September 2000, when deputies tried to arrest him, he fought them off and tried to pull a gun from his waistband.

Deputies eventually got control of the 5-foot-9, 180-pound man, though five of them ended up at the hospital afterward.

He spent nearly 10 years in prison on those charges, getting out in September 2010.

Honish has previously been arrested on charges of making a false report, DUI with property damage and probation violation.

On Monday, both men remained in jail without bail, and Pasco authorities released more details about the two other robberies Burnett is accused of committing Sunday.

They said that about 9:45 a.m., Burnett entered 14339 Tifton Lane in Odessa through an unlocked door. He walked into a bedroom, where he found a woman and demanded she give him cash. He ran away with only her cellphone, deputies said.

Fifteen minutes later, Burnett broke into another home a mile away at 1518 Rowland Drive. He demanded money and guns from a man inside the house and struck him in the head with a revolver. He stole cash and drove off with a woman in her 2000 Ford F-150, deputies said.

The robberies appear to be drug-related, deputies say. They did not identify the woman who was with Burnett because she is currently a witness in the cases.

Times news researchers John Martin and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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