Monday, December 18, 2017
Public safety

Pinellas Park police follow trail of evidence to arrest 3 in slaying of man with wads of cash

PINELLAS PARK — The first clue as to who had shot David Rhea tumbled out of his pocket as doctors worked frantically to save him.

A wad of bills — 100s, 50s, 20s — bound in rubber bands rolled onto the surgical table.

Everyone who knew Rhea knew he carried a lot of money. The 39-year-old commercial fisherman didn't trust banks. So he bundled every dollar he made into fat lumps of cash.

"If someone's going to try to rob me," Rhea told his friends, "they're going to have to kill me."

The doctors could not save Rhea. A month after his death, authorities charged three young men with his murder.

Two of them had known Rhea well during their troubled childhoods. Rhea had spent money on those boys — on dinners, on clothing, on hot dogs at Rays games — from the cash he carried in his pockets.

They had even called him dad.

•••

The details of Rhea's May 7 death are revealed in documents and recordings recently released by prosecutors.

They don't tell the whole story; that is a tale still to be delivered in court.

But they do illuminate some facts about the crime and the trail of evidence that led detectives to Rhea's alleged killers.

The young men were part of a group that called themselves the Get Off Boys — GOB for short. The pack of half a dozen friends wasn't a gang, one member later told prosecutors, it was a "crew."

Cody Dials and Randy White were crew members. In Facebook pictures, the baby-faced teens posed in low-hanging shorts and T-shirts flaunting forearms and chests blanketed in tattoos bearing phrases like "Money Hungry" and "Life is Pain."

David Rhea's son, Chris Rhea, was a member. He had known Dials and White for years. They went to school together at Dixie M. Hollins High School in St. Petersburg.

Dials, 18, and White, 19, grew up with parents who showed tough love. In his early teens, Dials sometimes ran away and ended up at Rhea's Pinellas Park home. When his son's friends came around, Rhea did what he could. He fed, clothed and entertained them. He let them live in his house. The boys thought of Rhea as a father figure. To his four children, Dials and White were like brothers.

But whatever loyalty the pair held for Rhea and his family dissipated by the time they reached adulthood. Why is unclear.

Whatever it was, on the night of May 6, Dials and White were planning a robbery, witnesses later told prosecutors in sworn statements. Of whom, no one seemed to know.

The pair was among a group of eight rowdy partiers that night in a seedy room at the LaMark Charles Motel on U.S. 19.

Some sat on the bed and watched TV. Some smoked K2, a brand of synthetic marijuana. Some took Xanax.

Zachary Perrine, 21, was a friend of White's. The two met through their girlfriends. He had known Dials for only about a week, he told police.

Raul Suarez, another Get Off Boy, watched as Dials, White and Perrine stood in a corner near the bathroom, whispering. He saw them taking things out of a bag — latex gloves, a BB gun, a ski mask — and putting them in a small white Dickies bag.

In Dials' pocket, Suarez said he saw a handgun.

When someone asked what they were up to, they said nothing, a witness told police. Asked again, Dials spoke up.

"Gonna hit a lick, bro," he said.

•••

Ashley Templeton, Rhea's daughter, was in her father's house when her phone rang about 2 a.m.

It was Dials. He was at Park Place mall, he said, and needed a ride. She drove to the mall, in front of a movie theater, where Dials said he would be.

He wasn't there.

•••

David Rhea's mother, Shirley Rhea, was startled awake about 2:45 a.m. in the darkness of her son's home.

"I'm shot," she heard him say.

She turned toward the open bedroom door and saw him hunched over. Two or three masked men were at his side, she later told police.

One of the men pointed a gun at her and demanded cash. She reached in her wallet and handed him $2,000. The robbers fled.

Rhea collapsed. Three shots had been fired. One went through a wall. Another pierced his right shin. Another punctured his belly and sliced through his chest. He lay gasping on the hallway tile floor as his mother ran to a neighbor to call 911.

•••

Back at the LaMark Charles, Dials, White and Perrine arrived wet and dirty, wearing different clothes than they wore a couple of hours before. They hustled to the bathroom and locked the door. From outside, Suarez and others could hear them counting.

The door opened. They saw the three dividing a hoard of cash.

Perrine soon left with his girlfriend. The rest of the group went shopping, Suarez said. Dials and White bought expensive clothing — half a dozen hats at $35 each, a pair of Nike Air Force One shoes at $200.

Suarez knew about Rhea's killing. He was angry, he later told prosecutors, but said nothing.

"I was scared because of Cody," he testified. "He might kill my mom if he gets free, or I could go to jail for something I didn't do."

•••

But eventually, just about everyone talked. Each bit of testimony gave authorities more of what they needed.

The killers also had left a lot of clues behind.

In yards and in the street behind Rhea's house, police found a collection of items.

Discarded latex gloves in the grass. A $100 bill in a concrete drainage ditch. A black gun magazine and spilled bullets on the sidewalk. At a house directly behind Rhea's, a dog greeted its owners with a black ski mask in its mouth.

In a trash can down the same block, police found a small white Dickies bag. In the driveway of another house, a BB gun was stashed under a pickup. From the truck, forensic technicians lifted a palm print. It matched Zachary Perrine.

•••

It took detectives nearly a month to build their case. Perrine, whom police identified as a suspect in two unrelated robberies, was arrested a week before all three were charged with first-degree murder.

Dials, White and Perrine have a pretrial hearing scheduled for Oct. 1. Each faces a life sentence if convicted. They all have entered not guilty pleas.

In recorded chats with relatives and interviews with detectives, none of the three admits to the murder. But they don't outright deny taking part in it either.

"This is the first time you ever came to visit me," White says in a recorded video visit with his mother.

"Well, this is some serious s- - -, holmes," she says, telling him about how she heard news reports of his arrest on TV and radio.

"If you had gone to the job corps," she tells him, "this never would have happened. If you would have listened to what I tell you."

"This time when I get out," White replies, his voice thick and nasally as he fights tears, "I'm going to just cooperate what you got to say."

Dan Sullivan can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or [email protected]

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