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Vietnam veteran quick to draw; man shot in Clearwater

CLEARWATER — Lester E. Rollins Jr. told a court psychologist many years ago that he had learned an important lesson in Vietnam: Never let anyone harm or kill you.

In the four decades since he returned from the war, Rollins has pulled the trigger on three people — four if you count Tuesday morning.

Early Tuesday, about 4:45 a.m., as the 58-year-old tells it, he was sitting in the garage of his house at 902 Pennsylvania Ave. smoking and reading the paper as usual.

Alexander Stephen, 21, walked up to him and broke the quiet solitude of the morning by asking Rollins for a light. "I said, 'Give you a light? What the hell are you talking about, I haven't got a light, man, at this time in the morning,' " Rollins said in an interview with Bay News 9.

Then, Rollins said, Stephen grew belligerent and poked him in the chest with his finger. Rollins said Stephen spotted a pistol next to him and threatened Rollins, saying he would be back the next morning.

"I said 'no you won't because I'm going to take care of you right now,' " according to Rollins, "and then I shot him." He said he used his .38-caliber revolver in self-defense to ward off a robbery and protect his wife inside. After the shooting, he called 911.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Stephen, of Clearwater, was in guarded condition at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and police were still trying to make sense of the situation.

What was Stephen doing in the garage? How did the fight start? Was Rollins even allowed to own a gun?

In Florida, convicted felons are barred from possessing guns, unless their rights have been restored.

Court records paint Rollins as a man with a violent history:

• June 19, 1981: Rollins is accused of firing his revolver at a woman inside the Blue Fountain bar in Clearwater. He is also accused of shooting a man in the face and in the arm out on the street. Rollins pleads guilty and serves two-and-a-half years of an eight-year sentence. In 1987 his rights are restored.

• May 13, 1989: Rollins is accused of beating a man in Clearwater with a baseball bat and pouring cleaning solutions down his throat. The state attorney's office decides not to prosecute. Rollins has his rights restored again in 1994.

• July 3, 1998: Rollins is working in construction. When payday comes around, he and Tim Bryant, the man handing out the money, get into a dispute. Rollins threatens to kill Bryan, according to a deposition, then pulls out his .38, aims it at Bryant, and pulls the trigger. The gun does not go off. A few minutes later, Rollins comes back to say he is sorry.

Rollins pleads no contest to the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm and improper exhibition of a firearm. He serves 14 months.

Since then, he has not had his rights restored, according to the Office of Executive Clemency.

On Tuesday, police still hadn't decided what to do with the incident. No one has been charged with a crime.

Stephen had one prior arrest for possession of marijuana. He pleaded no contest to that misdemeanor charge in December.

Staff photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Vietnam veteran quick to draw; man shot in Clearwater 08/05/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 9, 2008 2:05pm]
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