TAMPA —The attorney for a man accused in a fatal June shooting on Interstate 4 — a confrontation that authorities say was a case of mistaken identity — says his client did not fire the shots that landed him a first-degree murder charge.
Police reports, witness statements and other evidence in the case against Jerome Hayes suggest another man, who was with Hayes, is the one who shot and killed Fred William Turner, said Tampa attorney Nick Matassini Jr.
That man, Ronnie Isgett, has bragged about his role in the shooting, Matassini said.
"I think the evidence is going to show that Ronnie is the shooter," Matassini said. "Ronnie is allegedly a troublemaker. He's a wild card."
The lawyer's claims throw a new twist into a bizarre set of circumstances that began with a fight at a Tampa strip club on the afternoon of June 29.
Hayes, 48, who lives in St. Cloud but who grew up in Tampa, stopped at the Gold Club at 6222 Adamo Drive. Hayes got into a fight with another patron and both men were kicked out, authorities said.
A few minutes later, Turner, 47, walked out of Tres Equis, an adult store and video arcade on the same property.
Hayes mistakenly thought Turner was the man he had just fought, authorities said. When Turner drove off in Ford Mustang, Hayes followed in his gray Ford Taurus, authorities said.
Minutes later, Turner called 911 and told dispatchers he was being followed by a man who had brandished a gun. He was eastbound on I-4, approaching the Interstate 75 interchange when shots rang out. Turner managed to pull over before he died.
A few days later, detectives obtained a warrant for Hayes' arrest. He met with Matassini before turning himself in at the Orient Road Jail.
Deputies said there was another man with Hayes at the time of the shooting, but they did not reveal his identity.
It was Isgett, Matassini said.
The 49-year-old Dover man recently had reconnected with Hayes, his childhood friend. The two met up at the Gold Club. And it was Isgett who started the fight, a claim that is backed up by surveillance video from the club, Matassini said.
Two separate witnesses reported seeing the shooting as it happened, Matassini said, but their reliability is questionable.
One witness said the shooter was a man with short hair, Matassini said. Hayes is completely bald. The other witness gave an incorrect description of Hayes' car, the lawyer said, and did not see who fired the gun.
State records show Isgett has a minor criminal history that includes about a half dozen charges, most of which were dropped, in the early 1990s. Hayes has just a single arrest from 2007 on a charge of dealing in stolen property. It was later dropped.
While some of the evidence appears to cast doubt on Hayes' guilt, Matassini said, attorneys are still waiting to receive other key pieces of evidence. They include a medical examiner's report, which will shed light on exactly how Turner died. They also include a copy of a statement that Isgett gave detectives and the results of ballistics and other forensic testing.
Despite his claims, Matassini said he expects the case against Hayes will eventually move to trial, a process that will play out over the next year to 18 months. In the meantime, Hayes waits in the Hillsborough County Jail, where he is being held without bail. His next court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 12.
Isgett, reached via phone, declined to answer questions without first consulting with his lawyer.
"This is a tragic situation and I am very distraught about it," he said. "It's a sad situation all around."
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @TimesDan.