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Mistrial in 1987 murder of bartender

Jeffrey M. Lobik, center, talks to his attorneys, Steve Nelson, left, and Kandice Friesen, during a break in testimony Tuesday in his trial for the 1987 murder of bartender Susan Heyliger in a Largo lounge.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Jeffrey M. Lobik, center, talks to his attorneys, Steve Nelson, left, and Kandice Friesen, during a break in testimony Tuesday in his trial for the 1987 murder of bartender Susan Heyliger in a Largo lounge.

The first-degree murder trial of Jeffrey M. Lobik, accused of the 1987 slaying of bartender Susan Heyliger, ended in a mistrial Friday night after jurors deliberated more than six hours without reaching a verdict.

After more than five hours, jurors sent out a two-line note. "The jury cannot agree," it said. "The jury is hung."

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Richard Luce told them to go back and try again.

An hour later, about 8 p.m., they sent out another note: "After careful brief reconsideration, the jury is still at an impasse and all cannot agree on a verdict."

As Luce declared a mistrial, one juror, a middle-aged woman, cried and looked over at Heyliger's family.

It was unclear when Lobik, 41, could face another trial. It could be as soon as mid October or as late as December.

In his closing argument Friday, prosecutor Glenn Martin gave jurors what he said is the only logical scenario that could have happened at the Country Club Lounge.

According to the cash register, Heyliger made her last sale at 1:59 a.m. June 7, 1987.

She locked the doors to the bar on East Bay Drive, just like every night, he said.

"The people outside feel comfortable that she's safe because they hear the turnbolt lock," he said. "Ms. Heyliger, who is inside alone, isn't aware of the danger that is lurking above."

That danger, he said, was Lobik.

But Lobik's attorney, Kandice Friesen, argued that anyone could be responsible for Heyliger's murder.

"The fact is there are things that could have been investigated that could have led somewhere else," she said.

Heyliger's body was found at 6 a.m. behind the bar. She had been beaten and her throat had been slit.

Prosecutors said Lobik, who faced life in prison, lifted the ceiling tiles in the men's bathroom, scrambled into a 4-foot-high crawl space and smoked crack. He then waited for the bar to close and attempted to rob the cash register. He was surprised by Heyliger, prosecutors said, and killed her.

Lobik, who was 20 when Heyliger was killed in 1987, said he couldn't remember what he told officers when he was first questioned in the case.

"I know I was in the attic and I know I smoked crack," he said in 2004.

And that recollection proved costly.

That's because Lobik originally told officers he had never been in the attic of the Country Club Lounge in Largo. After changing his story, the 41-year-old construction worker was arrested in 2005.

Friesen said the case was flawed from the onset. Officers lied to the suspect, ignored other leads and allowed witnesses to talk to each other, Friesen said, adding the state's circumstantial evidence was not enough to overcome reasonable doubt.

"Nothing has changed since 1987 when the prosecutor said not enough evidence. Nothing has changed since 1989 when the prosecutor said not enough evidence," she said. "The one thing that's changed is this 'confession' of Jeffrey Lobik and this snitch they pulled out of their hat in 2005."

Allan Kough, a multiple offender, testified that Lobik told him in a jail transport van that he had strangled Heyliger.

Martin argued that no one knew about the choking except the police and the killer.

Mistrial in 1987 murder of bartender 07/26/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 3:56pm]
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