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Court records reveal dark secret in Tarpon slaying

TARPON SPRINGS — A martial arts instructor killed in an execution-style shooting in February had a dark secret, according to court records released Tuesday.

Joseph Brignoli was sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy he pretended was his son, the documents show. In Brignoli's home, police found videotapes and DVDs that appear to contain child pornography.

Brignoli, 33, was found dead, slumped against the garage door of his rented townhome in north Tarpon Springs around 10:30 p.m. Feb. 6. He had been shot 18 times with an AR-15 rifle.

The child, whom the St. Petersburg Times is not identifying because he is believed to be the victim of a sex crime, told detectives that Brignoli abused him on several occasions and videotaped at least one incident.

Police said the boy is not a suspect in Brignoli's killing and that they have arrested the sole shooter: 20-year-old Christopher Kubiak, who was a friend to both Brignoli and the boy. Kubiak has been charged with first-degree murder.

Kubiak's motive is never made clear in the hundreds of pages of documents. But interviews with the boy paint the clearest picture yet of what happened that night and give some insight into a shooting earlier the same day that wounded a Palm Harbor man.

According to the boy, here's what happened that night:

Brignoli and Kubiak picked him up at his home in Palm Harbor around halftime of the Super Bowl. The trio stopped at a gas station and Brignoli got out to get gas. While they were alone in the truck, Kubiak told the boy that Brignoli had gone to the Palm Harbor apartment complex where the boy's father lived and fired several shots earlier that evening.

Jim Freeman, who was in his nearby condo watching a movie, was hit in the face by an errant round around 6:40 p.m. Freeman, 40, died eight days later, but an autopsy showed he didn't die from the gunshot.

Witnesses at the scene said the shooter was driving a white pickup — one matching the description of a truck found in Brignoli's garage after he was killed.

About two hours after Freeman was shot, as the trio drove to Brignoli's house, Brignoli began yelling at the boy about a party he believed he had attended. At his townhome, Brignoli was drinking vodka and continued his rant. When Kubiak went to the garage to smoke a cigarette, he and the boy had a conversation which was redacted from court documents. But right after that talk, the boy said Kubiak took Brignoli's rifle and hid it.

While Brignoli was in the bathroom, Kubiak handed the gun to the boy and nodded to him. The child told detectives that "he took this to mean that he should shoot" Brignoli. When he came out of the bathroom, the boy tried to lift the rifle but struggled under its weight, he said. Brignoli came toward him yelling, "Go ahead and shoot me!"

The boy said he dropped the weapon and ran. He saw Kubiak and Brignoli wrestling over the rifle, then heard gunshots. The boy said he turned back and saw Brignoli come out of the house and fall down in the driveway, then he heard more shots.

It's unclear from documents if Kubiak knew the boy was being abused or had seen the child porn. He has declined an interview request from the Times.

The boy told investigators that he and Brignoli had engaged in oral sex and intercourse on "more than four occasions."

The boy said that to cover his absences from his divorced parents' homes, Brignoli invented a "fake child" and would ask the boy's parents if he could spend the night to hang out with that child. The boy said the other child "never existed."

It wasn't the only ruse Brignoli created. The day he was killed, Brignoli wove a web of deception about the boy he abused and claimed was his son.

Brignoli contacted authorities just before midnight Feb. 5, and again five hours later to report his "son" missing. He gave police a fake last name for himself, and told deputies he was the boy's father. He claimed the boy's real father was actually his grandfather and accused the man of being a foreign spy.

Brignoli told the Sheriff's Office he thought the boy might be at a house party in Palm Harbor, the same party he and the boy would argue about later. Deputies checked the party location and didn't find the boy.

Later, Brignoli contacted the Sheriff's Office again. He concocted a long story about how he didn't know he had a son until the boy was 8, but now he had legal custody of him. But deputies found the boy's real father. Little by little, Brignoli's story began to unravel.

After a deputy pressed Brignoli, he gave his real name and admitted he wasn't the boy's real father. He said he had trained the boy and other young males in mixed martial arts and took care of the boy.

Brignoli told deputies the boy was friends with his son, but then he couldn't tell them what year his son was born. A deputy noted Brignoli seemed nervous, his body trembling and his face flushed. The deputy left but said he might charge him for falsely reporting a missing child.

Just before 11 p.m. Feb. 6, a deputy rolled into Brignoli's complex to arrest him for filing a false report and found it awash in blue flashing lights. Brignoli's bullet-riddled body was lying in the driveway.

Kubiak was arrested two days later.

Court records reveal dark secret in Tarpon slaying 03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 11:01pm]
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