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Unintended victim in Palm Harbor drive-by shooting accidentally overdosed on prescription painkiller

PALM HARBOR — A Palm Harbor man who died after he was shot in the face by a stray bullet on Super Bowl Sunday was killed not by the bullet, but by an accidental overdose of a powerful painkilling drug.

That's according to reports released Wednesday by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which also confirmed a link between that shooting and an execution-style killing in Tarpon Springs later the same night.

Investigators say it was Joseph Brignoli, a 33-year-old martial arts instructor, who opened fire in a Palm Harbor neighborhood around 6:40 p.m. Feb. 6. Jim Freeman, 40, who was shot in the face when an errant round penetrated his condo wall, was not Brignoli's intended target.

Less than five hours later, Brignoli would be dead, the victim of a brutal slaying in the driveway of his Tarpon Springs townhouse that left his body riddled with 18 gunshot wounds, including seven to the head.

The nexus, investigators said, was an assault rifle and a drama surrounding a 13-year-old boy.

• • •

Brignoli's motive for firing a gun in Palm Harbor earlier that day might never fully be known. But the man accused of killing him told investigators he had a theory about the earlier shooting.

Christopher J. Kubiak, 20, who has been charged with first-degree murder in Brignoli's death, told a detective he thinks Brignoli was trying to intimidate the father of a 13-year-old boy.

Brignoli had taken the boy under his wing and wanted control of the child, Kubiak said. The boy's father lived in an apartment complex across the street from Freeman's condo in Palm Harbor's Glen Eagles subdivision.

Investigators with Tarpon Springs police say Brignoli was sexually abusing the boy and seemed to have an obsession with him, even trying to pass the child off as his son.

In the reports released Wednesday, including a synopsis of a detective's jailhouse interview with Kubiak, Kubiak said Brignoli had made several comments previously about wanting to kill the boy's parents so he "would be able to get awarded custody … so he could have full control of him."

• • •

Kubiak told a detective he went to Brignoli's home on Flying Fish Lane around 5 p.m. on Feb. 6 and found Brignoli dressed in a "tactical vest" with a large knife in a holster on his hip. He had an AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder, Kubiak said.

Brignoli looked like he was on drugs, said Kubiak, who admitted to investigators that he used to sell narcotics to Brignoli.

Brignoli got into a white truck and drove off without saying where he was going. He returned more than an hour later and Kubiak helped him unload the truck. Bullet casings littered the floorboard, Kubiak said.

Brignoli told him he had "gone and done a drive-by shooting and fired approximately 25 rounds," according to the report.

Brignoli later picked up the boy, with Kubiak along for the ride. The three stopped at a gas station, then a liquor store, where Brignoli bought alcohol.

Throughout the ride back to Brignoli's home, Kubiak said, Brignoli repeatedly berated the boy, saying he had lied about a party he recently attended.

When the trio got to Brignoli's home, the argument intensified and Brignoli got "physically aggressive" toward the boy, Kubiak said. In the garage, the boy told Kubiak he thought Brignoli was going to kill him, and they could hear Brignoli stomping and pacing on the floor above them.

Kubiak went upstairs to try to calm Brignoli. As they stood at the top of the stairs, the boy started up the stairs, the AR-15 in his hands, Kubiak said.

The report released Wednesday does not say what happened next. According to previously released reports from Tarpon Springs police, the boy said he tried to lift the rifle but struggled under its weight.

The boy said he dropped the weapon and ran. He said he saw Kubiak and Brignoli wrestling over the rifle, then heard gunshots.

When police arrived, they found child pornography at the home. The boy told detectives that Brignoli abused him on several occasions and videotaped at least one incident.

Ballistics tests proved the assault rifle was used in both shootings.

• • •

Freeman had nothing to do with Brignoli, Kubiak or the boy. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He survived the gunshot wound to his face. He was released from a hospital five days after he was shot and was sent home with Fentanyl, a powerful narcotic pain reliever.

Freeman was familiar with the drug, having taken it after a 2009 surgery that left him wearing an ostomy bag, his wife, Denise, told detectives. He said he had used 100 microgram Fentanyl patches after that surgery, so he asked his wife to apply the 50 mcg patches given him after the shooting more frequently than they were prescribed.

His wife told investigators she put one on him Feb. 12 and one on Feb. 13, though they were prescribed to be used only once every 72 hours.

She discovered him dead in their bed Feb. 14. Detectives said a third patch was missing.

Freeman suffered from several physical and mental health ailments. His wife said he survived an overdose in July 2010, though reports don't say what drug he took. Detectives found numerous medications at Freeman's condo that were legitimately prescribed. Toxicology tests determined his death was caused by a Fentanyl overdose.

Unintended victim in Palm Harbor drive-by shooting accidentally overdosed on prescription painkiller 06/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 10:26pm]
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