1. Archive

2nd trial in death of officer opens

The videotape began with a brightly colored test pattern, then plunged into the dark night and grisly images of June 13.

Here was Belleair police Officer Jeffery Tackett's patrol car, its driver's door open, its front seat empty. Here was the Belleair condominium where he had gone to investigate clicking noises, noises that a resident thought might have been a hungry raccoon.

Here was the back of the condominium, where the glass in a French door had been shattered by a burglar _ the source of the clicking the resident had heard. And here, sprawled on the patio in a pool of his blood, was the slain officer, his eyes open, his skin pale, his face blank.

As the tape played Tuesday afternoon in a Clearwater courtroom, the jurors who are to decide the fate of the man accused of killing Tackett watched intently.

A hush fell over the court as spectators craned for a better view. Tackett's widow, Alice, who last month dashed out of the room in tears while the tape played, this time simply bowed her head.

Across the room the defendant, Lorenzo Jenkins, sat alone, staring down at a legal book, hardly moving a muscle.

Assistant State Attorney Robert Lewis told the jury that Jenkins, 32, was the burglar Tackett had surprised that night. Jenkins had lost his job that day and was desperate for cash, Lewis said.

Prosecutors contend Jenkins wrestled Tackett's gun away and shot him in cold blood, then fled. But defense attorney Michael Schwartzberg painted a different scenario during opening arguments Tuesday.

Yes, Tackett caught Jenkins trying to break into the condominium, using a butcher knife to break the glass in a door, he said. Yes, he had begun to arrest Jenkins, and Jenkins resisted arrest. But what happened next, Schwartzberg said, was purely an accident.

"A struggle ensued, they ended up on the ground and the gun discharged," Schwartzberg told the jury.

Lewis told the jury that experts would testify that Tackett's .45-caliber pistol is unlikely to fire by accident.

"You must pull the trigger for that gun to fire," he said. "It takes a deliberate pull."

They also will testify that Tackett was shot from more than 5 feet away, he told the jury.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Jenkins. But Schwartzberg contends his client is guilty of third-degree murder, not first-degree. If convicted of third-degree murder, Jenkins might be sentenced to 30 years in prison.

When Jenkins was tried last month, though, the proceedings ended in a mistrial because of controversy over the test firings of Tackett's gun. Expert testimony on the gun could come as early as today.

Tuesday's testimony focused on what happened the night Tackett was killed, when Amy Walker, who was alone in the condominium she shared with her mother and grandmother, heard odd noises downstairs.

Walker called police, then stayed on the line with Belleair dispatcher Michelle Stamm while Tackett _ the only officer on duty that night _ checked out what she had heard.

Both Stamm and Walker could hear Tackett's radio transmissions. He said he had a black male suspect at gunpoint. Then he said the suspect was resisting and asked Stamm to hurry along any backup officers.

One of the backup officers, John Stevenson of Belleair Bluffs, was in his car on the way to the scene when, he testified Tuesday, he heard a transmission from Tackett that Walker and Stamm did not.

"The officer said that they were taking his gun and he needed help right away," Stevenson said. Under cross-examination by Schwartzberg, he admitted that in 11 years with the department, he had never heard a Belleair officer's walkie-talkie transmission on his radio.

Meanwhile, the woman who lived across the Pinellas Trail from Walker, Christina Pack, had taken her garbage out. She testified Tuesday she overheard an argument from across the trail, then what sounded to her like a white man's voice saying, "Put it down! Put it down now! Put it down!"

Seconds later, she said, there was a shot.

According to Stamm, after the shot, Tackett made one last radio transmission: "I'm shot. It's bad. The suspect got my gun and shot me."

It took fellow officers nearly 20 minutes to find him, and then only did so with the help of the Largo Police Department's dog, Sento. By then Tackett had bled to death. The bullet from his .pistol had severed the main artery in his leg.

According to Schwartzberg, what Pack heard was Tackett telling the burglar to put down the butcher knife _ not the gun.

After Jenkins left Tackett, he bicycled north to Clearwater. Witnesses testified Tuesday that he showed up close to midnight with handcuffs dangling from one wrist, looking to his estranged wife for help removing it.

After Kathy Jenkins and her neighbors helped him remove the handcuff and sent him on his way, Mrs. Jenkins phoned police, witnesses said.

"She was flipping out," testified Sean Davis, a neighbor who helped Jenkins remove the handcuff, because, he said, he was afraid Jenkins might still have the gun.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. today.