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Despite last year's leniency, habitual offender back in jail

A year ago, a judge declared Reginald Moorer a habitual offender after an armed robbery charge capped his already lengthy history of arrests and drug abuse.

But the judge gave him an unusually lenient sentence _ a year in prison _ and the chance to change his life.

Six days after his release from prison, the 29-year-old Moorer did change, but not for the better, police say.

In his most violent offenses yet, Moorer was linked by St. Petersburg police to a string of robberies and a carjacking along 34th Street. A second chance seems unlikely now, prosecutors say.

"I know jails are overcrowded and people deserve a second chance," said George Santos, 20, one of the alleged robbery victims from earlier this month. "But I do believe in losing privileges if a person can't handle their freedom."

Freedom was short for Moorer. He was taken back to the Pinellas County Jail 16 days after he was released.

The St. Petersburg native, of 2335 Seventh Ave. S, has been in and out of the judicial system since 1986. He has been charged with theft and burglary, as well as possessing and dealing crack cocaine, according to court records and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The Department of Corrections shows Moorer being in prison six times.

In July 1995, Moorer was accused of threatening Bruce Jockish with a pocket knife and taking his bike and bag along Central Avenue. Arrested the same day, Moorer pleaded innocent to the charges. He eventually changed his plea to no contest in exchange for a sentence of 10 years in prison, with nine years suspended, and five years of probation.

Even though Circuit Judge Brandt C. Downey formally considered Moorer a habitual offender, the judge agreed to the light sentence. Downey could not be reached for comment this week.

Joseph Walker, the assistant state attorney who prosecuted the 1995 case, said the sentence would have been harsher, but the victim was uncooperative. In fact, he said, prosecutors could not locate Jockish until the day before the trial. When they did, Jockish was in jail himself for violating his probation. He told prosecutors that Moorer belonged in drug treatment, not prison. As a result, defense lawyers asked for a lesser sentence. Kandice Friesen, his assistant public defender in 1995, declined comment.

"The defendant came in and said he had a problem and was ready to turn himself around," said Walker. "Obviously he misled the court."

Though prosecutors did not agree with the sentence, Walker said he felt Moorer's past record was not strong enough to win an appeal. He said he feared Moorer would be freed.

The 1995 sentence also required Moorer to receive special addiction treatment. Court records show that Moorer had a 12-year history of chemical dependency on cocaine and alcohol. In his plea bargain, Moorer agreed to complete a residential treatment program as part of his probation. But probation proved to be a problem for him as well, records show.

Probation Administrator Joe Papy said Moorer has violated his probation every time he was released from prison in previous years. Papy said it was common for substance abusers to fall back into a life of crime, especially when they are not treated.

"He wasn't under supervision for a long time," Papy said. "So we didn't have much of an opportunity to get him in treatment programs."

Moorer was supposed to serve probation until 2001, but he failed to report to his probation officer after his release from prison this month.

Instead on July 6, about 2:50 p.m., a gunman robbed Dan Ray Schmidt at the Goodyear Tire Service Store, 380 34th St. N. The robber took $8 and tried to take Schmidt's car, but couldn't drive the stick shift.

Seven minutes later, a man with the same description pointed a gun at Harry Carnes and he waited in the drive-through at McDonald's, 260 34th St. N. He took Carnes' wallet and blue 1985 Dodge pickup.

Four days later, a man in a blue truck drove up behind Santos and Faith Baldwin at the Taco Bell drive-thru, 3401 Fifth Ave N. At gunpoint, he demanded their cash, taking about $80 total. Later that day Carnes' blue pickup was found abandoned at Eight Avenue and 23rd Street S.

"I kept thinking he can shoot," said Santos, who was attending a monthlong summer program at Eckerd College. "He was really angry and I thought he could do anything. He was sweating mad and seemed desperate. He wanted anything. He would have been happy with $2."

His latest victims, surprised to learn of Moorer's prior arrests, question why a repeat offender would receive a suspended sentence at all.

"It's ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous," said Baldwin, a 20-year-old Eckerd College student also with the program.

Prosecutors also were disappointed to learn of Moorer's arrest last week. Walker said Moorer will be treated as a career criminal again when he faces the new charges of armed robbery, aggravated assault and carjacking for incidents between July 6 and 10.

"The court felt that they should give him another chance and look what happened," Walker said. "I don't think we'll see the court giving him an opportunity like that again. He had a golden opportunity and didn't take advantage of it."

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