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Two arrested in 2007 near-fatal shooting of the owner of Hernando's Boyett's Grove and Citrus Attraction

BROOKSVILLE — All along, Elijah Montgomery insisted that he wasn't one of the three robbers who hit the Boyett's Grove and Citrus Attraction in April 2007.

And that's about the extent of what he would say about the crime, despite being the only person charged in the armed robbery that left the owner clinging to life with bullet holes in his chest.

But once evidence emerged that showed he was telling the truth, authorities said, Montgomery last month started telling them what he knew.

The information not only helped get his charges dropped but also led to the arrests of two Orlando men in the near-fatal shooting of Jim Oleson.

"I don't blame anybody for what happened," said Montgomery's lawyer, assistant public defender Devon Sharkey. "I'm just glad they got the right guys."

Hernando sheriff's officials announced Friday that Adrian House, 26, and Damion Childs, 25, face charges of attempted murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, aggravated assault with a firearm and two counts of robbery with a firearm.

They remain in custody at the Hernando County Jail with no bail.

A third suspect, Willie Cliatt, was killed in Orlando in an unrelated incident in late 2007. Cliatt was one of Montgomery's cousins.

"We absolutely have the two remaining people that we needed to charge," said Sgt. Donna Black, a spokeswoman with the Sheriff's Office.

The mayhem started, according to records, when the three men drove from Orlando to Hernando County on April 25, 2007. They intended to rob a bank in Brooksville, but traffic was too busy downtown, so they looked elsewhere.

Soon, they arrived at Boyett's Grove, an old-Florida roadside attraction at 4355 Spring Lake Highway in rural east Hernando County.

Arrest affidavits give this account: While Cliatt and House held a customer down and searched the store, Childs, armed with a .45-caliber handgun, destroyed the phones. He then grabbed Oleson's wife, Kathy, by the hair and dragged her around the store demanding money and threatening to kill her.

When they stepped into a back room, he came upon Oleson working on a computer. Oleson stood up, and Childs fired two shots into his chest.

After taking a wallet and some cash from the bleeding man, the suspects fled in a late-1980s white Mercedes sedan and managed to elude a massive police search.

Oleson spent several weeks in intensive care at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa fighting for his life. Boyett's Grove was closed for nearly three months.

About three months after the robbery, police booked Montgomery into an Orlando jail on suspicion of pointing a gun at a woman.

Forensics tests by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement matched that pistol to a shell casing recovered by Hernando sheriff's technicians at Boyett's Grove.

And in December 2007, the Olesons went to the Orange County jail in Orlando to identify suspects in the case.

Montgomery was one of six men in the lineup: All of them black, all of them roughly the same age, all of them wearing the same goatees and dark-blue jumpsuits.

Montgomery was No. 5.

"He looked like the person who was here," Kathy Oleson said Friday.

With her identification and authorities able to establish a connection to the gun, Montgomery was charged and taken to Hernando county jail.

"We can place him at the scene; we have the gun in his hand," Black said at the time. "We have the guy."

But from the start, Montgomery denied any involvement in the robbery. Montgomery repeatedly told visitors and his attorney that he had never even heard of Brooksville or knew where Boyett's Grove was located.

Then the defense attorney, Sharkey, found records showing that Montgomery's cell phone was being used in Orlando at the time of the crime. Also, Sharkey said, Kathy Oleson's initial description of the assailants cast doubt about the reliability of her identification.

Oleson had told investigators the robbers were about 5 feet 9; the tallest of the three suspects, Cliatt, was 5 feet 9, and Montgomery is more than a half-foot taller at 6 feet 5.

"I think she was heartfelt that she had the right guy," Sharkey said. "But she didn't."

Friday, Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee said he felt uncomfortable relying upon an identification in a jail lineup as a major part of the case.

"That alone is not enough," Barbee said. "It's the first time in 20 years that I've seen it done here. That's usually done in the movies, for dramatic effect."

Once evidence started to show that Montgomery wasn't one of the suspects, Sharkey said, his client began cooperating with the investigation. On Sept. 17, Montgomery provided a sworn statement to authorities saying that he got the gun from his cousin, Willie Cliatt.

Montgomery also helped to identify House and Childs, both of whom already were jailed in Orlando on unrelated charges, as the other two suspects.

Childs later admitted he was the gunman, authorities said.

Montgomery "waited until the 11th hour before he told law enforcement how he came upon the weapon and who he got the weapon from," Black said. "Court was just around the corner."

Montgomery faced life in prison. Now, he'll return to prison to serve the remainder of a 10-year sentence stemming from a conviction in Orange County for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and carrying a concealed firearm.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Two arrested in 2007 near-fatal shooting of the owner of Hernando's Boyett's Grove and Citrus Attraction 10/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2009 8:47pm]
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