Two-decade trail finally leads to Largo murder trial

Jeffrey Lobik, 41, is on trial in the 1987 murder of Susan Heyliger, whose throat was slit, at the Country Club Lounge in Largo.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Jeffrey Lobik, 41, is on trial in the 1987 murder of Susan Heyliger, whose throat was slit, at the Country Club Lounge in Largo.

The original medical examiner who did the autopsy on the victim has been dead for 20 years. The supervising police officer has retired to a cabin in Montana. And the primary officer now works somewhere else.

But those who know the case best came to a Pinellas County courtroom Tuesday to testify at the trial of a man Largo police spent 18 years investigating before arresting.

And although it has been two decades since Susan Heyliger died, her relatives filled nearly three rows of seats behind the prosecutors' table.

The night of June 7, 1987, Heyliger, 42, was cleaning up after closing the Country Club Lounge on East Bay Drive. Unknown to her, someone was hiding in the ceiling above the men's bathroom. He hit her, strangled her and slit her throat, authorities say, before getting away with $600.

Two years later, Largo police found a prime suspect, Jeffrey Lobik, now 41. He had been drinking at the bar that night. He had no alibi for the early morning hours. His tennis shoes matched a shoe print found at the scene. And his criminal record included a charge of burglary.

But it would take another 16 years and a slipup in his story before Lobik was arrested, officials said.

At first, Lobik consistently denied that he was in the crawl space. When questioned in 2004, however, Lobik told a detective he had gone into the crawl space to smoke crack that night. That inconsistency led authorities to charge him with first-degree murder a year later.

Defense attorney Kandice Friesen said Lobik, who lived in Largo at the time of the killing but later moved to Ocala, never confessed to police or in letters to family.

On Tuesday, medical examiner Jon Thogmartin testified instead of John Gallagher, who performed the autopsy in 1987 but died a year later.

Thogmartin said Heyliger was hit behind the head and on the forehead, leaving bruises and cuts.

But it wasn't enough to kill her.

Thogmartin said Heyliger was choked so hard, her necklace left an impression in her skin.

But it wasn't enough to kill her.

It was the three slashes to the throat that killed her, Thogmartin said, but not before she took a few breaths and bled to death.

"She was alive after the strangulation and she was alive after the throat cut," he told jurors.

Allen Kough, who has 11 felony convictions, said in his testimony that he was in the van transporting him and Lobik to jail. Lobik told him about Heyliger's murder "like he didn't care at all," he said.

"They couldn't prove it then and they'll never prove it now," Kough said Lobik told him.

The trial is scheduled to continue today.

Jackie Alexander can be reached at jdalexander@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Two-decade trail finally leads to Largo murder trial 07/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 6:26pm]

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