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Robbery victim breaks his restraints, kills robber

TAMPA — Late Thursday night, two friends of Anthony Velez's came to his apartment. They'd been there many times before, a neighbor said. This time, police said, they tied Velez up and robbed him. And this time, only one left alive.

Velez, 21, fatally shot one of the men after breaking free from the restraints and wresting a gun away, Tampa police said.

It happened about 11 p.m. at the Tuscany Point Apartments, 3350 W Hillsborough Ave. The other man fled on foot, and Velez suffered only minor injuries.

The fugitive was identified by police as Ramon Antonio Varela, 34, with no known address. He is described as having a shaved head and a goatee, a tattoo on his forearm reading "Domingo," and another tattoo across his stomach. He is known to frequent adult entertainment establishments.

Varela is facing charges of felony murder, armed robbery with firearm and kidnapping.

Laura McElroy, a Tampa police spokeswoman, said Varela faces a felony murder charge even though authorities say he didn't pull the trigger because state law allows such prosecution if someone dies during the commission of a felony.

Velez could not be reached for comment.

One of his neighbors, Will Nieves, said Velez is a good guy, but too trusting. The two met when Velez moved into the apartments about a year ago.

They used to play video games together, but Nieves said they stopped hanging out after Velez began spending time with a "not-so-great crowd," including the men at his house Thursday night.

"They were practically living there," Nieves said.

Nieves, who lives at an apartment downstairs with his wife and 3-year-old son, said he was worried for his family's safety.

Just a month after they met, Velez offered Nieves a spare key to his apartment, Nieves said. "I handed it back," he said.

Though Velez has been arrested twice before — on charges of drug possession and probation violation in 2006 — Nieves didn't consider him dangerous. Velez was mostly a hermit who reached out to new friends by paying for lavish gifts and parties.

"I've always talked to him like a big brother," Nieves said.

"I told him, 'You've got to watch who you trust. In this world, not all that glitters is gold. Some people will hide behind a fake smile.' "

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.

Robbery victim breaks his restraints, kills robber 11/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2008 9:13pm]
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