Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Public safety

Police: Murder suspect offered $20,000 for false confession

ST. PETERSBURG — Police said a man charged in connection with a recent nightclub shooting offered to pay someone $20,000 to take the blame for the killing.

St. Petersburg police arrested Artez Hooker, 31, outside a lawyer's office Monday afternoon on a charge of second-degree murder. Hooker had known he was wanted and had agreed to meet a detective at lawyer Doug Prior's office on Roosevelt Boulevard, arrest reports said.

During the arrest, police learned that Hooker had brought another man, Robert Jerome Sowell, 21, to Prior's office "and told him exactly what to write" in a letter confessing to the crime, arrest reports said.

Outside the office, police saw Hooker fighting with Sowell and trying to get the letter out of his pocket. While arresting Hooker on the murder charge, police also charged him with robbery and tampering with evidence in connection with the fight.

Police arrested Sowell as well, on a charge of accessory after the fact to second-degree murder.

Hooker is charged with shooting Doncaro Small, 32, on June 16 during a brawl at Hollywood Nites Club, 1201 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S. After the shooting, Small drove to a hospital. Police initially expected him to live, but he died Saturday.

Two weeks earlier, Hooker had gone to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg with a gunshot wound to his right leg. Police believe Hooker was shot during a fight at Onyx Premium Nightclub, 211 Third St. S, but he refused to speak with officers.

This isn't the first time Hooker has been accused of violence.

In December 1998, Hooker — who was then 15 — shot a man multiple times during a traffic dispute. The incident occurred after Hooker, who was on a bike, believed the 30-year-old driver had cut him off. Hooker shot the man twice in the leg and once in the hand. He was charged as an adult with attempted murder.

Hooker was later released on bail and, a month after the incident, ran into the victim in a barber shop. Hooker told the man not to talk to anyone about the incident and lifted up his shirt to reveal a gun. He was charged with witness tampering.

Hooker pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of aggravated battery and was sentenced to three years in prison as a youthful offender; a judge recommended he serve his time at a boot camp.

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