Saturday, February 24, 2018
Public safety

Questions arise on timing of Tarpon Springs murder arrest

TARPON SPRINGS — Two weeks have passed since police arrested a resident of a Tarpon Springs public housing complex on suspicion of murdering his neighbor.

But more than four months have passed since the killing itself. And as indications emerge that authorities identified Richard Brockington, 45, as a suspect soon after the alleged murder, so, too, do questions about the timing of his arrest.

Brockington is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Eddie Dixon, a 73-year-old retired city worker who was discovered stabbed to death in his apartment at North Ring Village on Dec. 7. At the time, Brockington was living in an apartment that faced Dixon's across a small courtyard.

For months after the killing, the Tarpon Springs Police Department released few details of its investigation and made no arrests. North Ring Village, which sits across from City Hall, is equipped extensively with surveillance cameras.

Police Sgt. Mike Trill, speaking to the Tampa Bay Times in February, said the cameras were not pointed at Dixon's door and had "nothing like a smoking gun" in the way of clues.

However, an arrest affidavit filed when Brockington was arrested on April 3 raises questions about that account.

The affidavit indicates that investigators gathered substantial video evidence from the cameras, which showed Brockington "walking from his apartment to the victim's apartment, and then leaving a few minutes later with two wallets. He empties the contents of one wallet and places those contents in his wallet, and then hides the wallet in the bushes of a neighboring apartment."

The affidavit also states that another resident of the complex told police he saw Brockington after the murder with blood on his shirt and several $50 bills. Authorities assert Brockington killed Dixon, a Vietnam veteran, in order to steal money he received through government assistance.

It is unclear when the video footage surfaced, but statements by Brockington's ex-girlfriend suggest he was identified as a suspect soon after the killing.

Diane Hampton, 56, who shared an apartment with Brockington at North Ring Village, told the Times that police visited their home to collect DNA samples from Brockington — swabbing his mouth and taking nail clippings — within weeks of Dixon's death.

Sharon Smith, 49, who lives next to the unit formerly occupied by Brockington, said she was surprised to learn of the amount of evidence police had accumulated during the four months her neighbor was not arrested — and displeased by the delay.

"If they had him on surveillance, they should have got him," Smith said. "That's what a lot of people are saying."

Trill said that while probable cause likely existed to arrest Brockington before he was actually taken into custody on April 3, police wanted to make the strongest case possible before he was charged.

"If you make the arrest, and he doesn't get prosecuted, then he's a danger for the rest of his life," Trill said, adding that the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office was aware of the progress of the Tarpon Springs police investigation before Brockington's arrest.

According to the arrest affidavit, Brockington ultimately forced investigators' hand by calling police on April 3, saying he was contemplating suicide. He was taken into custody the same day, and remains in the Pinellas County Jail, where he is being held without bail.

Hampton, Brockington's ex-girlfriend, said she had no criticisms of the way police handled the case. "I'm glad they found out who it was," she said.

More discomfiting, she said, was the revelation that an alleged killer shared her home, including for four months after Dixon was found fatally stabbed.

"The Lord, he protected me all that time," Hampton said. "I'm not going to bring anyone else in this house. It's just going to be me."

News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

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