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Trial opens in gang robberies, murders

The gang of young men went on a crime rampage across Tampa in the winter of 1989, robbing hundreds of restaurant patrons and firing a semi-automatic weapon. Before it was over, investigators say, two victims were dead.

This week, 21-year-old Kem Alex Dixon stands trial charged with the murder of Raymond Sobczak, a 30-year-old hotel night auditor who was shot during a robbery attempt early on the morning of Dec. 26, 1989.

Sobczak was working because he volunteered to help someone else on the holidays, prosecutor Karen Cox told the jury Tuesday. "That morning he died as a result of Patrick Johnson and Kem Dixon's attempt to rob the Best Western Hotel."

Together, Dixon and Johnson, 20, were accused in Sobczak's murder as well as the murder of 30-year-old John Rupert, who was shot to death when he tried to stop the gang from stealing jewelry and cash from another man in Hyde Park in November 1989.

Dixon was found guilty of murdering Rupert, but has not yet been sentenced on that charge. A jury has recommended life in prison.

In a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, Johnson earlier pleaded guilty to 22 charges, including the two counts of murder and multiple counts of robbery and attempted robbery.

Johnson also agreed to testify against Dixon and Francisco Miranda, 19. Miranda also is charged with Rupert's murder.

Samuel Glymp, who has shared space with Dixon at the Hillsborough County Jail, is scheduled to testify against him this week. Glymp also is charged in connection with the gang's last robbery at a Brandon Wag's restaurant.

The gang has been charged in several restaurant robberies from Brandon to Carrollwood. Witnesses said the men fired a gun into the ceilings of two different restaurants to scare the customers.

The trial is expected to continue through today. The state is seeking the death penalty for Dixon.