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Murder charge is dropped as witness changes story

The day the murder trial began, the prosecutors' star witness changed her story. Then, Wolinda Green's attorney told the judge she has a history of mental illness and has been declared incompetent twice.

"She was weeping and crying and distraught," Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Robert Beach said Wednesday. "She didn't remember anything. And she told a different story.

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. It looked like she was unable to testify, and she wouldn't be any time soon."

So on Wednesday prosecutors agreed to drop a first-degree murder charge against 19-year-old Melanie "Precious" Chaney in the May 5 shooting of a St. Petersburg man. Instead, she pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for five years in prison.

Because Chaney already has spent about six months in the Pinellas County Jail, defense attorney Richard Sanders said she likely will be released from prison within a year.

"If she's incompetent, they've got no case," the defense attorney said. "Without Wolinda Green, they've got nothing. They've got two shots being fired, her (Chaney) running out the door and the body."

Chaney's fingerprints weren't even on the semiautomatic handgun police found at the house at 1000 Seventh St. N.

"Linda had said before that she had been in and out of hospitals," Pinellas prosecutor Tim Kelly said. "But she never said she had been judged incompetent.

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. That was the big surprise."

Green also hurt the state's case when she changed her story.

Prosecutors said she first told authorities that Chaney shot Dennis Coble after Chaney tried to rob him at a crack house. Then she told authorities that Chaney shot Coble after he tried to rob her. Chaney has consistently maintained that she shot Coble after he tried to rape her, Sanders said.

St. Petersburg police arrested her four days after the shooting. Police say she shot Coble twice with a small handgun. Green was the only witness who said she knew anything about the case.

After the shooting, Sanders said Chaney went to another crack house, known as "The Zoo." Green said Chaney made incriminating statements. Those statements later came into question.

Green, who is in jail on drug charges, now is telling a story that varies from the one she first told police and a Pinellas County grand jury, prosecutors say.

Defense attorney Sanders said he accidentally found out about Green's mental condition while talking to Assistant Public Defender David Parry at the Clearwater Criminal Court Complex on Tuesday, the day the trial was to begin. Sanders was flabbergasted. He told prosecutors about Green's mental history, and Parry talked to Beach.

On Wednesday, prosecutors agreed to reduce the charges.

"It's a weird case," Sanders said.

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