NEW PORT RICHEY — Adam Ekdahl wanted to call his mother. It was late November 2011, a few weeks after he beat a man to death with a child's baseball bat, and Ekdahl was incarcerated in the Pasco jail accused of burglary. He had not yet been charged with murder. Two detectives visited him in his loud, crowded housing unit and asked for a written statement. Ekdahl, then 24, wanted his mother's advice. The detectives know that being nice gets people talking. They allowed the call, gave him a phone — and kept recording.
"I killed somebody," Ekdahl told his mother in a recording played for jurors Thursday, the last day of Ekdahl's trial. The courtroom could only hear Ekdahl's side of the conversation. His mother was upset. Ekdahl, now 25, was silent for long moments as she spoke. He answered her questions in spurts, his voice steady.
"I didn't mean to kill him, Mom."
"Yeah, it was a robbery."
"No, I didn't mean to kill him."
"I don't know, Mom."
"I don't know."
"How old?" Ekdahl said, when his mother asked about the man he killed. "I don't know."
"I don't know his name."
His name was Samuel Martinez Pratts and his family cheered after Ekdahl was convicted Thursday of his death. The 12-member jury of seven men and five women deliberated for an hour before coming back with a verdict. Ekdahl, with a teardrop tattooed under his eye and a skull inked on his hand, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He showed no emotion, his face blank. When the judge asked if he wanted to make a statement, he shook his head.
The murder of Pratts happened Nov. 10, 2011, in an abandoned house behind a gas station on U.S. 19 in New Port Richey. Ekdahl lived across the street at the Travel Inn with his girlfriend and her two daughters. Authorities said Pratts rode to the Travel Inn on his bike with a wad of cash, looking for drugs. Ekdahl hatched a plan to rob Pratts and got three young women to help him — his girlfriend's daughter, Courtney Keeven, 19; a local prostitute, Staci Gurney, 20, and another woman who lived at the motel, Zoraina Castillo, 19.
Pratts, who smoked crack at the motel, was lured to the vacant house by the promise of a threesome with Keeven and Gurney. According to testimony, Pratts and the two women sat in the pitch black home. Ekdahl, hiding in the shadows, found his target when Pratts flicked his lighter to light his drug pipe.
Keeven and Castillo testified that Ekdahl hit Pratts on the head, again and again, telling him to not move. They took his wallet and fled, but realized the cash wasn't in it. So Ekdahl and Keeven went back. Pratts was still alive, holding his head, spraying blood.
"What's going on?" he asked.
Keeven testified that Ekdahl ran at Pratts, savagely beating him in the head with the bat, which Ekdahl had taken from the motel. It was a little girl's bat, white with pink butterflies. The medical examiner testified that half of Pratts' skull was fractured, his brain bleeding and bruised. Ekdahl searched his body and the house for the money. He never found it, but the medical examiner did. Pratts kept his cash in his underwear.
The day after the murder Ekdahl pawned Pratts' bike for $30. The next day, he pawned Pratts' cell phone for $10.
"All this for nothing," Ekdahl said to the detectives, in the recorded interview.
The three young women pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and are serving 20-year prison sentences. The State Attorney's Office refused to make a deal with Ekdahl.
A tipster led authorities to the corpse and Ekdahl. Pratts' body was found Nov. 14, 2011.
Pratts was 44, the father of two daughters, and lived in Spring Hill with his mother, Eudora Pratts, an 80-year-old woman who only speaks Spanish. Relatives said Pratts had his faults, but they loved him.
He left that day to pay his mother's cell phone bill and never came back. She waited for seven days before his body was found, identified and she was told her son was dead. She sat quietly throughout the trial and stayed, wiping her eyes, shuddering, when the prosecution showed photos on a screen of what Ekdahl did to her son. One wound was so deep his skull was visible. She wants Ekdahl to feel remorse, which is what her daughter-in-law said for her in court.
"At this moment our family can't forgive you," Jennifer Pratts said to Ekdahl. "But hopefully, one day, you will look up and say, 'I am very sorry for what I did.'"
Outside in the hallway, the family thanked the men they called the Three Musketeers, all with the first name of Chris: Prosecutors Chris Sprowls and Chris LaBruzzo and New Port Richey Detective Chris Mellecker.
"Without you, he would still be walking the streets," Jennifer Pratts said to the men, her voice breaking. Eudora Pratts reached up to the tall detective and hugged him tight.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.