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Pinellas Park detective cracked first murder case in a day

PINELLAS PARK — The police detective knew the two women were not coming clean about the killing at their apartment complex.

Leading her first homicide investigation, Detective Roxanne Hunt was determined to quickly find out who stabbed 51-year-old Richard Levo to death.

The women were key: One, the prime suspect's girlfriend; the other her friend. But how could she get them to talk?

The answers came quickly when the detective learned both were sleeping with the prime suspect.

Many killings are never solved. This investigation was over in less than 24 hours.

• • •

The call came in at 1:37 a.m. on Oct. 7.

"Oh God! … Oh my God!" Richard Levo told a 911 operator as he struggled to breathe. "Get the police and an ambulance here, would you? I'm losing lots of blood. Hurry up."

Levo was stabbed 18 times after confronting two people breaking into his neighbors' cars at the Whetstone Apartments parking lot. Levo didn't even own a car.

Police found a large pool of blood in the parking lot of the 20-acre complex. They followed bloody footprints leading away from the scene of the attack, across a grassy median, onto a sidewalk and up stairs to the second floor of a nearby building.

Levo, barely conscious, was slumped in a plastic lawn chair outside his apartment.

Blood covered the back of the chair, the door knob to his apartment and the cordless phone he used to call 911. It pooled beneath him until it spilled over the ledge to the pavement below.

He did not have long to live.

• • •

It was not a promising beginning for Pinellas Park police.

No one saw the killing. No surveillance cameras captured the scene. No security guards were on duty.

Two people saw suspects running away, but they weren't cooperating with police detectives.

What's more, Levo gave police descriptions of the killers that turned out to be wrong.

"We really thought it might turn into a cold case," said Hunt.

Police arrived within minutes of Levo's 911 call.

They set up a perimeter. A police dog sniffed around.

Forensic teams dusted cars for fingerprints.

Bingo.

The killers left prints on the cars.

By early afternoon, police investigators had a suspect: Aaron Cook, 21, whose extensive criminal record began when he was 14. Tips also were coming in about his alleged accomplice, a woman who would later be identified as 19-year-old Tiffany Ann Mitchell.

"We kept receiving bits and pieces that we had to put together as one puzzle," Hunt said.

It helped that the suspects had loose lips: Before they fled the complex, they told someone about the killing. That person then told someone who then told someone else and on and on.

"Thank God for people with a conscience," Hunt said.

Police also learned that Cook had a girlfriend, Desiree Larson, whom they had interviewed repeatedly throughout the day. They knew she was holding back information about the killing.

It was time to talk to Larson again, this time at the police station.

• • •

The prime suspects had fled.

Someone must have helped the two assailants get away, Detective Hunt thought.

It was midafternoon, more than 12 hours after the stabbing.

One of the people staying with Larson, Tiffany Veysey, denied knowing anything about Levo's killing. She said she spent the night at her friend Larson's apartment, watching over Larson's children.

Hunt showed her a picture of Cook.

Veysey said she used to date him and slept with him the night of the stabbing. In fact, she said, she frequently had sex with Cook. She couldn't help it, she told Hunt. It was her hormones.

The first-time lead detective knew finally had what she was looking for.

She told Larson that her friend Veysey had been sleeping with her boyfriend.

"Larson was beside herself," Hunt later wrote.

Larson started talking. She admitted that after the killing she took the two accused killers, Cook and Mitchell, to a motel in New Port Richey, just north of Main Street. She didn't remember the name.

Detectives quickly figured it out.

• • •

Shortly after 6 p.m., police staked out the Valu-Lodge at 6253 U.S. 19.

At 11:15 p.m., police watched as Cook and Mitchell loaded their belongings into a cab. They headed south on U.S. 19. Police tailed the cab until the driver committed several traffic infractions. They pulled him over.

At 12:01 a.m. Oct. 8, a judge signed arrest warrants.

By 1:49 a.m., both Mitchell and Cook had been booked on first-degree murder charges.

It was 24 hours and 12 minutes from the time police first got the call.

Pinellas Park detective cracked first murder case in a day 01/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 10:10pm]
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