Atlanta police arrested a former lawyer on Wednesday in the case of a 35-year-old Tampa man who was attacked and left on fire along Courtney Campbell Parkway in February. Tampa police say Robert Lee Bennett Jr., 44, who visits his mother in Clearwater frequently, was charged with arson and attempted first-degree murder.
Police spokesman Steve Cole said Bennett was identified by the victim from a photograph on Tuesday.
Bennett is also a suspect in three similar cases in Atlanta, police there say.
In the Tampa attack, police say Bennett approached Gary Clapp, 35, near the Salvation Army on Feb. 28 with a proposition. For $50, Clapp agreed to take part in an experiment to "test the effect of alcohol on the human body," according to Tampa Police reports.
Police say that Bennett attacked Clapp, set his lower torso on fire and left him in flames near a strip of mangroves off the Courtney Campbell. Clapp was found at 10:40 p.m. that day by a passing police officer.
Clapp told police he drank about two half-pints of vodka and does not remember anything more before waking up in Tampa General Hospital the next day, police said.
Cole said detectives here issued warrants for Bennett's arrest after Clapp identified him. "We showed (Clapp) the photo pack and within seconds he said, "That's the guy,'
" Cole said.
The warrants were faxed to the Atlanta Police Department on Wednesday morning, and Bennett was arrested about 3 p.m. when he came to the department to be questioned about the Atlanta cases, Cole said.
Tampa police began investigating Bennett last Friday after Atlanta authorities notified them about the similar cases. Bennett, whose local address is 1621 Gulf Blvd. in Clearwater, spends part of the year there with his disabled mother, his attorney, Guy Notte, said Tuesday.
In Atlanta, the attacker has become known as the "Handcuff Man" because in several cases victims were handcuffed.
Notte said his client "absolutely denies" he had anything to do with the crimes.
Atlanta police said they would take their cases before a grand jury for indictments. The grand jury meets next in Atlanta on Friday, said Atlanta detective Bobby Ford.
Bennett is being held in an Atlanta jail without bail. Cole said the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office will begin extradition proceedings today.
_ KATHLEEN OVACK