Friday, December 15, 2017
Public safety

Police hope for more arrests in St. Petersburg home-invasion slaying

ST. PETERSBURG — One early morning last June, surveillance cameras outside Rick Shaw's home at 7014 Orpine Drive captured footage of four armed and masked men plowing through his front door yelling "police!"

A brief struggle ensued as the men demanded cash and drugs from Shaw, 41, and his 18-year-old son, Alex. It ended with Shaw fatally shot in the back.

Two months later, detectives said they put names to two of the intruders: Charles Stone and Justin Hart. Both were arrested on murder charges and remain jailed awaiting trial. They have pleaded not guilty.

Police released few details about how they linked Stone and Hart to the crime. The other two men remained at large, they said.

What police didn't say, until now, is that they know who those other men are. In fact, one of them is in jail, charged with a similar home invasion that happened minutes before the attack at Shaw's house. Another is believed to be in another state.

So why haven't those two men been charged?

Documents recently released in the cases against Stone and Hart reveal a complex investigative puzzle — one in which all the pieces have yet to fall into place.

"The case is far from over," said St. Petersburg police Maj. Mike Kovacsev. "At this point, it's what we can prove."

Police say they know most of the story. But finishing the puzzle, for now, is a work in progress.

• • •

Alex Shaw lay in bed about 4:45 a.m. June 19 when he awoke to a revolver in his face.

Two men stood in his bedroom. They demanded to know where he kept "the weed and money," he later told detectives.

It was a rough time in his life. His mother, Tory Shaw, had died a week earlier after a yearlong battle with cancer.

As he rose from bed in the early morning darkness, he struggled to comprehend who the men were.

In a room across the hall, Alex heard furniture being shoved around and his father arguing with two other gunmen. Then he heard a shot.

"I can't feel my legs," Rick Shaw cried.

Alex asked if he could go help his father.

"We don't give a f- - - about your dad," one of the men said.

Moments later, they fled with cash, a laptop and other items, hustling back out the front door and across the lawn.

• • •

Less than 12 hours later, detectives got their first lead. An anonymous caller gave them a name: Christopher Roberson.

He was 30 years old, the caller said, and had dreadlocks. A look at Roberson's background showed a lengthy record of arrests stretching back more than 10 years for charges that ranged from drug possession to child abuse to aggravated battery.

And it just so happened that he was scheduled to appear in court for a minor traffic charge the next morning.

Homicide detectives were there. They found Roberson, but a defense attorney stopped them from talking to him. All they could do was watch as their suspect pleaded guilty to driving without a license and was sent to jail for six months.

A few days later, with little else to go on, police decided to release surveillance video from Shaw's house. After that, tips poured in.

"His name is Christopher Roberson," one caller said. "That's his voice. Oh, my God, that's his voice saying 'police!' "

In the weeks that followed, informers gave investigators more. Among several other names that surfaced were Charles Stone and Justin Hart. Callers also named a fourth man, who has not been charged.

Roberson led the group, one informer told detectives. He acted under the direction of a fifth man, who lived just blocks away from Shaw's home, another informer said.

Records from Roberson's cellphone showed two calls placed to a number belonging to that man in the early morning hours of June 19. One call came just before the raid at Shaw's home, and another just minutes after.

In a sworn deposition, the man denied any involvement in the crime. He has not been charged.

From the beginning, police also suspected the same group was responsible for another home invasion-style robbery at the home of Gregg and Rebecca Gordon. That crime happened about 2 miles away, just before the attack at Shaw's house.

Among the evidence gathered:

• A bracelet that Hart sold to a pawnshop in the days after the crime was identified as one stolen from the Gordons.

• A set of bolt cutters, which the robbers used to cut the lock on a fence to gain access to the Gordon home, was found inside a blue Ford Expedition that Roberson drove.

Under questioning, Stone, 28, and Hart, 24 confessed their roles in both crimes, police said, though details of what they said are not public record under Florida law.

DNA evidence collected from a flashlight that was left inside Shaw's bedroom helped seal the murder charges.

What's more, Stone spoke about another home invasion, this one in Tampa, in which a man and a woman were both shot to death, according to an investigative report.

In a jailhouse interview with Tampa police, he professed knowledge of the April 30 deaths of Lacy Coleman and Terry Harris, the report said, who were killed in a home at 8218 N Brooks St. in Tampa. No one has been charged in that case and the investigation remains ongoing.

• • •

Even with evidence implicating several people, Stone and Hart remain the only ones accused in Shaw's murder.

There still isn't enough to charge Roberson or the fourth suspect, who has since left the state, police said. But police do have some of what they need.

In September, authorities added a robbery charge against Roberson in connection with the attack at the Gordon home. On Feb. 22, he posted $150,000 bail, but a bonding agency revoked the bond three days later after detectives told them he might face additional charges, police said. He remains jailed and has pleaded not guilty.

Unlike Stone and Hart, Roberson has stayed quiet. He faces trial in the Gordon case on July 30. In the meantime, many questions remain unanswered.

"These three will be held accountable," Kovacsev said. "As time goes on, we will see if we can bring in a fourth or a fifth person."

New tips could be the key to bringing the case to a close.

"If the public cooperates and gives us a starting point, most of the time, we'll get to the finishing point."

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

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