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Police seek details to see if Tampa shooting death was justified

TAMPA — Witnesses describe someone erratic, banging on apartment windows, triggering car alarms, barking like a dog and cartwheeling through the parking lot.

One woman called his behavior threatening. Another said he seemed manic, but harmless.

All that, moments before police found him face down in a pool of blood near the front door of a 72-year-old neighbor.

Marcos Antonio Trujillo told police he believed he shot an intruder trying to break into his apartment. Now Tampa police and the State Attorney's Office are investigating whether Trujillo's actions were justified.

Shortly after 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Trujillo called 911 from his north Tampa apartment complex to report that he had just shot someone.

Police arrived at the 6103 Coral Bay Road residence to find Carlos Humberto Ibanez Arias on the ground, shot in his upper body. He could not be resuscitated.

Police spokeswoman Andrea Davis declined to provide details until detectives and prosecutors decide whether to file charges.

Police don't think the men knew each other, though Arias lived at 16217 Compton Heights Place, a nearby building within the same complex.

Gaps in the story remain. But witnesses who saw or heard commotion at the Compton Place at Tampa Palms apartments describe minutes of unexplained chaos that quickly turned fatal.

Josette Valdes said she left her sister's apartment and got into her van. Then Arias began pounding on her car window. As she sat in the van with her mother, Arias was hollering and banging on cars, but did not appear hostile, she said.

"He surprised me and startled us, but he wasn't scary," she said. "I've known people that were, like, bipolar, and I've seen them in their manic phase, and that's what I related it to."

He wandered over to her sister's children, who were sitting on a screened-in porch, and began speaking to them. Valdes said she almost called police, but hedged when Arias walked away.

When she and her mother drove away, Arias was standing alone on the sidewalk.

"I'm assuming that was right before it happened," she said. "When we heard [about the shooting] on the news this morning, we knew it was him."

In the minutes between Valdes driving away and Matthew King running out of his apartment, life bled out of Arias' body. Some neighbors say they heard two gunshots, others as many as seven.

King saw only two wounds in Arias when he found him on the ramp leading to the building's outdoor stairwell.

"He didn't have a pulse from the time that I got there," King said. "He died fast."

It's unclear how, or if, Arias broke into the first-floor unit.

The apartment's screened-in porch was intact Monday. A man who answered the door at Trujillo's address declined to comment, saying police and his attorney advised him not to discuss the shooting.

King said Trujillo, who lives with a wife and grandson, is a kind, older gentleman who walks with a cane. King and his live-in girlfriend, Barbara Bergonzi, had once let the Trujillos watch their son. The children often played together.

"I'm sure with all the noise he did feel threatened," said Bergonzi, who heard the commotion from her bedroom. "I felt threatened."

The apartment complex, off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, is gated, but the gate was open and unguarded Monday. Neighbors called the area a safe place, one where most people keep to themselves.

Florida's "stand your ground" law allows a person who feels threatened and is not involved in illegal activity to meet force with force, including deadly force.

Whether the shooting was a justifiable use of force will depend on the details of the incident, said defense lawyer Ron Cacciatore, who is not involved in this case.

According to state statute, a person who enters or attempts to enter another person's home unlawfully is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.

"If, in fact, this guy was trying to break in, the guy had every right to shoot the guy," Cacciatore said.

According to the most recent public records available, Trujillo has a concealed weapons permit that expires in 2010. The state stopped making those records public after 2006.

Trujillo does not appear to have a criminal record in Florida. Arias has been arrested once in Florida, charged in 1999 with domestic violence battery in Seminole County, according to state records.

Times staff writer Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report. Steven Overly can be reached at soverly@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3435.

Police seek details to see if Tampa shooting death was justified 07/13/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 13, 2009 11:21pm]
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