Fatal gunplay at party in Zephyrhills leads to murder charge

ZEPHYRHILLS — A night out drinking led to gunplay, and that led to 21-year-old Johnathan Austin's death, police say.

According to police accounts and court documents, Austin had been out at a bar the night of Jan. 28. The group he was with went back to the home of Timothy Hicks at 6511 Victorian Way, where Hicks brought out several guns to show the others.

Austin Harden, 23, was among them. He picked up a 9mm handgun, which went off. Johnathan Austin was struck in the head, documents say, and was dead when police arrived.

Harden was arrested last week on a charge of third-degree murder. He remains in jail with bail set at $100,000.

Johnathan Austin lived at 6006 Village Walk in Zephyrhills. According to records, he was first arrested numerous times in 2003, when he was 13, on charges of larceny and shoplifting. Later arrests included battery, carrying a concealed firearm and multiple counts of drug possession.

Witnesses initially told police that Austin shot himself accidentally. But they quickly recanted, saying they were protecting Harden because of his background.

Harden is also a felon, having served two stints in prison totaling more than three years on convictions for theft, arson, burglary and lewd and lascivious battery.

The sex case landed him on the state sex offender registry, but he successfully fought to be removed after Florida's "Romeo and Juliet" law passed, separating teenagers in consensual sexual relationships from cases of rape. Harden was 16 when he had a sexual relationship with his 14-year-old girlfriend, according to records.

Fatal gunplay at party in Zephyrhills leads to murder charge 04/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 7:44pm]

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