PORT RICHEY — A New Port Richey man has been charged with murder after a drug deal turned deadly behind a thrift store on U.S. 19, Pasco deputies said.
Michael Liberty, 21, was arrested Monday and charged with armed robbery and second-degree murder in the Sunday killing of Lester Caudill, 54.
Caudill and two men, James Reed, 45, and Christopher Esposito, 27, met with Liberty about 3 p.m. outside the Stop 'n Play arcade on U.S. 19. The men, deputies said, wanted to buy 100 oxycodone tablets from Liberty in exchange for $800.
As Caudill and Esposito waited in a vehicle, deputies said, Reed climbed in the back seat next to Liberty to make the deal. Ronn Stonecipher, 25, sat in the driver's seat; Jessica Crump, 21, who arranged the deal, sat in the front passenger seat, deputies said.
Liberty told Stonecipher to drive and pointed a handgun at Reed, threatening to kill him if he didn't give up the money, authorities said, and Caudill and Esposito followed the car. Reed handed Liberty the $800.
Stonecipher stopped less than a mile away from the arcade, behind a Goodwill on U.S. 19 and Jasmine Boulevard, deputies said. But before Reed left the back seat, he began fighting Liberty for the gun, deputies said.
Liberty fired twice, missing Reed, deputies said. Stonecipher fled the vehicle, and Reed rolled out onto the pavement. Caudill ran to the side of the stopped vehicle just as Liberty shot at him, hitting him in the chest, deputies said. He was taken to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point and was pronounced dead about 4 p.m. Sunday.
Caudill was a registered sex offender, convicted of raping a girl younger than 14 in Kentucky in 1994.
Crump was arrested Monday afternoon and charged with conspiracy to traffic a controlled substance. She told deputies she would earn $50 for setting up the deal, an arrest report shows.
Reed later identified Liberty to deputies as the shooter.
Deputies have not announced charges for Stonecipher, Reed or Esposito.