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Palm Harbor man hit by stray bullet dies, deepening mystery

PALM HARBOR — A man who was a victim of errant gunfire while watching TV at home on Super Bowl Sunday died Monday. But the bullet didn't kill him.

An autopsy performed on 40-year-old Jim Freeman showed that the gunshot wound that left a bullet buried in his right cheek did not cause his death. He died at home early Monday after spending last week in the hospital. Authorities say they now are waiting for toxicology test results.

Freeman was shot around 6:40 p.m. Feb. 6, when a bullet tore through the wall of his Glen Eagles condominium off Belcher Road in Palm Harbor. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said he was not the intended target. Detectives believe the shooter was targeting someone else who lives nearby, but they will name neither the target nor the suspect they say they have identified.

That's only one of the mysteries associated with the shooting. Authorities say the Palm Harbor incident is connected to a killing that occurred about four hours later in Tarpon Springs, but they have been unwilling to share details of their investigation.

Each day, the mystery just seems to deepen.

• • •

On Sunday, Feb. 6, about 3 a.m., Tarpon Springs police say they were called to the home of martial arts instructor Joseph Brignoli, 33, at 1197 Flying Fish Lane in Tarpon Springs to help the Sheriff's Office.

A report was filed by the Sheriff's Office for an incident that day described as "juvenile trouble." Another report the agency filed that day was described as information for the Crimes Against Children unit. Neither the Tarpon Springs Police Department nor the Sheriff's Office will provide details about those reports.

That evening, Jim Freeman was sitting on his couch watching Goodfellas on TV when shots were fired near his home. The shots, according to officials, were fired in a parking lot of an apartment complex across Belcher Road, 500 to 600 feet east of Freeman's home.

Authorities have since determined that Freeman was not the intended target of the shooting. The bullets, they say, were meant for someone else who lives nearby.

Among those who live nearby — in fact, right across Belcher Road from Freeman's condominium — is the father of a 13-year-old boy who often stayed with Brignoli, his martial arts instructor.

Witnesses reported seeing a white pickup with chrome rims and blue lights on the dash leaving the apartment complex parking lot around the time of the shooting.

Around 10:30 that night, Brignoli was gunned down execution-style in his Tarpon Springs driveway by a shooter who forced him to kneel and then fired multiple rounds into his head and torso.

Authorities say the shooter was 20-year-old Christopher Joseph Kubiak, a friend of Brignoli's, who is now charged with his murder. He remains in the Pinellas County Jail.

A neighbor reported seeing a boy in a black hooded sweatshirt running from Brignoli's driveway after shots were fired. The neighbor recognized the child because he stayed with Brignoli, the witness told police.

But the St. Petersburg Times is not naming the boy because he is a juvenile and not charged with a crime.

The Times has determined the child is not Brignoli's son.

In Brignoli's garage, authorities found a 2003 white Ford pickup that they said is similar to the white truck witnesses described at the scene of the Palm Harbor shooting about four hours earlier.

Police executing a search warrant at Brignoli's home after the shooting also seized three guns and a large quantity of computer equipment. Much of the computer equipment, including four hard drives, and several videocassettes were listed as "porno" on the search warrant inventory log. Tarpon Springs police spokesman Capt. Jeff Young declined to discuss those materials because of the ongoing investigation of the killing.

• • •

Two men are dead. One man is in jail. With results from ballistics tests pending and two law enforcement agencies investigating, authorities are not talking.

The connections between people involved in the two cases are unclear. So are the motives, which remain a mystery.

Joey Flechas can be reached at jflechas@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167. Staff writers Rita Farlow and Lorri Helfand contributed to this report.

Palm Harbor man hit by stray bullet dies, deepening mystery 02/14/11 [Last modified: Monday, February 14, 2011 10:55pm]
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