LARGO — A homeless man accused of murdering his girlfriend by lighting her on fire told two different people he planned to kill her in the hours before her death, according to court documents.
Jeffrey Robert Grant, 37, was arrested Tuesday evening and charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 9 death of Jennifer Guthrie.
Guthrie's body was found behind a burning trash bin at Wachovia Bank at 14147 Walsingham Road about 8 that night. Authorities had to identify her by her fingerprints because her body had been burned beyond recognition, according to an affidavit filed in Pinellas County court.
The homeless couple had recently been sleeping near the trash bin with another homeless man, the document said.
According to the affidavit:
A witness who bought the couple food told Largo police that Guthrie said Grant had tried to kill her on Oct. 7. The witness said Grant told him on Oct. 9 that "he was going to wind up killing" Guthrie because "she was making him mad all day, every day."
Sometime between 3 and 4 p.m. Oct. 9, Grant told another witness, an employee of a nearby Publix, that Guthrie "keeps pushing and pushing and that the day before he had choked her out until she urinated on herself."
Grant then told the employee, "I'm going to kill her." Thinking Grant was joking, the man laughed, to which Grant replied, "I'm serious."
Firefighters summoned to the fire a few hours later discovered Guthrie's body. The medical examiner found gasoline in her lungs and soot in her larynx and determined "thermal injuries" from the fire caused her death.
The other homeless man who had been staying in the parking lot with Grant and Guthrie tackled Grant when he saw the fire. The man didn't know at that time that Guthrie had been burned but was angry that Grant was ruining their encampment, he said. He told police that, as he held Grant down, Grant kept repeating, "I had to do it, man."
A woman who was getting money from an ATM at the bank told police she saw Grant throwing something at the fire that made the flames jump higher. She also said she heard screaming.
Last week, a grand jury indicted Grant on the murder charge.
On Tuesday afternoon, Largo police asked the public to help locate Grant, who had last been seen in St. Petersburg. A tipster called detectives and within a few hours, he was picked up at 555 31st St. S, said Largo police spokesman Lt. Mike Loux.
Detectives "attempted an interview; he didn't speak," Loux said.
Grant has been arrested dozens of times in Pinellas County since 2005, mostly for misdemeanors such as panhandling, trespassing and open container violations, court records show. He was sentenced to a year in prison in 2006 after twice violating his probation on a cocaine possession charge. In 2009, he was charged with aggravated assault, but the charge was later dropped.
On Wednesday, Grant was being held without bail in Pinellas County Jail.