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New Port Richey police charge four in death of 44-year-old Spring Hill man

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two weeks after finding the battered body of a man in a vacant house, police have arrested four people on murder charges and accused them of a plot to lure the victim with sex and drugs so they could rob him.

Adam Ekdahl, Courtney Ann Keeven, Zoraina Castillo and Staci Gurney face a charge of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery in the Nov. 10 beating death of 44-year-old Samuel Martinez Pratts, who had lived in Port Richey and Spring Hill. Ekdahl also faces two counts of dealing in stolen property for pawning Pratts' bicycle and cellphone, police said.

Police divers spent Wednesday searching the Cotee River for the bat used in the attack.

The four suspects were using drugs at the Travel Inn when Pratts, who had never met them, rode up on his bike and wanted to join the party, authorities said.

He stayed with them for a while at the motel and then the four decided to rob him, police said.

"They lured him to the house across the street," New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens said.

Pratts went into the vacant house with Keeven, 18, and Gurney, 19, authorities said, while Ekdahl and Castillo hid outside, authorities said. Ekdahl, 24, was armed with a pink baseball bat, according to the police report, while Castillo, 18, held a flashlight.

Ekdahl then sneaked in and began beating Pratts, who "was desperate in his attempt to escape," Steffens said.

Police said Pratts was struck in the head and across his body.

"They broke his head open," said detective Christopher Mellecker.

Police said the beating began in a bedroom and continued through several rooms in the house. They said Ekdahl and Castillo took off his pants, planning to search the pockets later, and coming up empty, went back to the house about 20 minutes later in hopes of finding money or drugs.

Police said Ekdahl went back to the house four times before a tipster told police about the body on Nov. 14. They said Ekdahl brought friends to the scene to show off the crime.

One of those friends said Ekdahl took him to the house and showed him Pratts' blood-covered body.

Steffens said police are working with the State Attorney's Office to see if anyone who saw the body can be charged with a crime. He said he was disturbed by the fact that no one told police.

"They didn't drop a dime," he said.

Before being charged with murder, Ekdahl was arrested on a burglary charge in Port Richey. Leads "quickly developed" from there connecting him to the murder, Mellecker said.

Police said the four suspects frequently hung out together. Ekdahl's girlfriend is Courtney Keeven's mother, Melissa. Officers were looking for Melissa Keeven but had not found her.

Pratts' relatives, who attended a news conference Wednesday, said Pratts worked at a Bright House warehouse and had two daughters, ages 5 and 25.

"Samuel was a nice person," said his sister-in-law, Jennifer Pratts of Spring Hill. "He helped out whenever he could."

His brother-in-law, Angel Ramos, called Pratts' death "senseless."

"We want justice done so this never happens again," he said.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, whose deputies assisted the Police Department, called Ekdahl "a street thug" and said the crime underscores the need to crack down on drug abuse.

"We can't allow another mother to cry for her son," he said.

New Port Richey police charge four in death of 44-year-old Spring Hill man 11/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 8:36am]
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