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Jury hears about man's suffocation

To the other regulars at the Keystone Club, Robert Dussault was the quiet gentleman at the end of the bar, an avid sports fan who always stopped in for a couple of Rob Roys on his way home from a hard day at work. On weekends he would be there when the bar opened.

When he didn't show up one Saturday, the other regulars wondered where he was. And when Dussault didn't report for work the following Monday, his boss came looking for him.

The boss found him dead in his St. Petersburg apartment, hogtied with the cord from a toaster. The 58-year-old venetian blind company employee, who suffered from emphysema, had suffocated.

On Monday, Steven Dent, 31, who lived two blocks away from Dussault, went on trial, charged with first-degree murder in Dussault's death.

In an opening statement to the jury, Assistant State Attorney Frank Migliore said Dent met up with Dussault at or near the Keystone Club on the night of Friday, May 19, 1995.

Dussault had had three Rob Roys and was headed home to drink beer and watch the NBA playoffs, and he invited Dent to join him, Migliore said.

Dussault lived in a third-floor apartment at the Hamilton Arms on Fourth Street N, near the Keystone Club. As the two men drank and watched the game, Migliore said, they discussed having sex together, but Dent said no.

After rejecting Dussault twice, Migliore said Dent later told police, "I just lost it."

Dent ripped the cord from the toaster, bound Dussault's hands and feet, then gagged him, Migliore said. Then Dent fled with $36 he found in a hasty search of the apartment, Migliore said.

"The last view Robert Dussault had of another human being was of Steven Dent ransacking his apartment," Migliore said.

Because Dent left Dussault lying face down and hogtied, the prosecutor said, "he simply could not breathe in the position in which he found himself." Emphysema hastened the inevitable, Migliore said.

But Assistant Public Defender Bruce Johnson told jurors that that account leaves out some crucial parts of Dent's story.

"He told police he never had any intention of hurting Mr. Dussault," Johnson said. He scuffled with Dussault only because the man "had been physically groping and grabbing him," Johnson said.

In cross-examining police Detective Terry Babb, Johnson also challenged Babb's testimony that Dussault's apartment appeared to have been ransacked. Johnson questioned whether Dussault might have just been a sloppy housekeeper. Babb said no.

However, Dent left behind Dussault's watch, clock, even the TV set _ which three days later was still on, tuned to the same station that had broadcast the playoffs the night Dussault died.

The trial continues today.