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Jury acquits man in Gibsonton murder

A Hillsborough jury took less than two hours Monday to acquit a man accused of first-degree murder, an unusual end for such a serious charge.

"I can count on one hand the number of not guilty verdicts that have come back on first-degree murder cases in the last five years," said Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney George Bedell, the fourth and last attorney to handle the 2-year-old case.

Less than two hours of deliberation "is a record on a three-week trial," said Ruskin attorney Paul S. Carr, who represented the defendant.

Robert Michael Bawman, 54, had been charged in the killing of William Robert "Jabbo" Lafon, 41, who was shot twice in the head at close range the evening of June 24, 1991.

Authorities said Lafon and Bawman were visiting a mobile home in Gibsonton when Lafon was shot in the back of the head as he sat talking to another man in the room.

Bawman, nicknamed "Whitey," fled the county and was arrested more than a month later in an Indianapolis motel.

The case against Bawman was not strong, however, both sides agreed.

"It wasn't a prosecutor's dream," Bedell said, adding that he would have preferred to have marshaled the case from the beginning.

There was only one witness to the shooting, Bedell said, but that man is a seven-time convicted felon with a history of mental problems.

There were no tire tracks, footprints or fingerprints to tie Bawman to the scene, Bedell said.

Investigators tried to prove the bullet that killed Lafon was identical in chemical makeup to other unused bullets found in Bawman's truck.

Carr said, "No one can say this bullet came from the same box. There are millions of bullets like that one."

Bawman was not at the mobile home at the time of killing, Carr said.

Bawman, who like Lafon is an admitted motel burglar, was set up for the killing by a burglary gang that wanted to get rid of both Bawman and Lafon to keep them from squealing, Carr said.