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Jenkins guilty in officer's murder

A cheer went up from one side of the courtroom late Thursday when the jury found Lorenzo Jenkins guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Belleair police Officer Jeffery Tackett.

"I'm just glad justice was done," said Tina Egnatuk, a childhood friend of the slain officer who hugged Tackett's widow, Alice, after the verdict. "I just thank the Lord that they did this."

As the verdict was read Jenkins, 32, stood with his hands on his hips and no expression on his face. His family, sitting across the room from Tackett's friends and family, also remained silent.

The jury of nine women and three men, who deliberated for three hours before reaching their decision, will reconvene this morning to debate whether Circuit Judge Douglas Baird should sentence Jenkins to death or to life without parole.

In reaching their verdict, the jury had to piece together what happened June 13, the night Tackett was fatally shot with his own .45-caliber pistol.

Only two people could have said for certain what happened: Tackett, who died within minutes of being shot; and Jenkins, who, when asked by Baird if he wanted to testify Thursday, said, "No, I guess not. No."

In their closing arguments, both State Attorney Bernie McCabe and defense attorney Michael Schwartzberg agreed that Tackett faced dangerous circumstances the night he died.

Tackett was the only officer on duty that night in Belleair. When condominium resident Amy Walker thought she heard a clicking noise downstairs and dialed 911, Tackett showed up to investigate.

He caught Jenkins using a butcher knife, trying to break through the French door, and managed to put one handcuff on him. Then something went wrong.

According to McCabe, Jenkins overpowered Tackett, wrestled his gun away and aimed the pistol down at the defenseless officer, who was pleading for his life.

As Jenkins aimed for Tackett, the state attorney said, Tackett curled into a fetal position, trying to present a smaller target, trying to keep from being shot in the torso.

The bullet severed the femoral artery in his leg, and he bled to death before other officers located him.

But according to Schwartzberg, Tackett's death was an accident. And the strongest argument for that is the place where Tackett was shot: in his right thigh, slightly toward the rear.

"He didn't shoot him in the head. He didn't shoot him in the chest. He didn't shoot him in the back," Schwartzberg said. "He shot him in the leg."

Schwartzberg tried to persuade the jury to convict his client of third-degree murder, which would carry a sentence of 30 years.

In Schwartzberg's scenario, when Tackett saw Jenkins breaking into the condominium with a knife, "the first thing Officer Tackett did was draw his pistol and cock that hammer."

Tackett made Jenkins drop the knife, then holstered his weapon to handcuff Jenkins, Schwartzberg said. But he made the handcuff too tight, and Jenkins turned toward him in pain, the lawyer said.

At that point, Tackett let go of the handcuff and pulled his still-cocked pistol out, Schwartzberg said. Jenkins, fearing he would be shot, grabbed Tackett's wrist or hand, he said.

"Officer Tackett had his finger on the trigger, and as they fell to the ground, that's when the gun discharged," Schwartzberg said.

McCabe scoffed at Schwartzberg's description of how Tackett died, calling it a "dream sequence."

Because experts found no gunpowder residue on Tackett's pants, McCabe said, he must have been shot from 3 to 5 feet away. But Schwartzberg contended the shot came from 18 inches, and that there was a simple explanation for why there was no residue.

"When Officer Tackett reached down to see how badly he was wounded, he wiped off that gunshot powder," Schwartzberg said.

That was why no one found any powder residue on the pants _ that, and the surge of blood from the wound, which washed the rest away, he said. Controversy over gunpowder residue led to Jenkins' case ending in a mistrial last month.