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Eckerd College maintenance worker slain

Normally, the Eckerd College campus is quiet right now. Spring break has sent most of its 1,600 students home. But before sunrise Monday, gunshots shattered the silence and left a maintenance worker dead.

Darlene P. Harmon, 44, who had cleaned Eckerd dormitories for three years, died about 6 a.m. in the parking lot outside the Henderson House dorm on the southern edge of the campus off 54th Avenue S.

Shortly afterward, police charged her estranged boyfriend, Marcus M. Days, 54, with first-degree murder. They said Days, a heavy-equipment operator, admitted shooting her during an argument. Days is being held without bail at the Pinellas County Jail.

Police said they found a .357-caliber Magnum used in the shooting in Days' pickup truck, parked outside his apartment on 14th Street N.

College and police officials said this was the first violent death to occur on the waterfront campus. The shooting stunned faculty, staff and students, though most did not know the victim.

"I was shocked for something like this to happen on the campus where we stay," said Julian Richardson, 20, an international business and management student from Jamaica.

Two students apparently witnessed the predawn shooting, but police would not identify them or reveal details.

Ms. Harmon worked for Sodexho-Marriott, which is under contract with the college to clean classrooms, offices and dorms. Company officials referred questions to Eckerd officials.

Ms. Harmon arrived for work about 5:20 a.m., police said. About 6 a.m., Days drove onto the campus in his pickup. He was allowed past the security gate because he had a parking permit, a permit issued in connection with Ms. Harmon's employment, campus security officials said.

"Apparently this was a regular routine that he had, to come out and visit her and sometimes they'd have breakfast together," said police spokesman George Kajtsa. "Today wasn't any different, except they got into some sort of row."

By the time police arrived at 6:15, Ms. Harmon was dead. Police found Days at the Bon-Air Apartments, a beige concrete-block complex of six units facing a brick alley, and arrested him there.

Landlord Ken Paddock said Ms. Harmon was not a tenant. But police and neighbors both said the couple shared the apartment.

"The lady was really nice," recalled neighbor Joseph Kirwin, 14, whose family lives across the street from the Bon-Air.

Kirwin said he frequently collected the couple's beer cans for recycling. Days became annoyed at him for asking for the cans, he recalled, but Ms. Harmon defended Kirwin for being enterprising.

Days and Ms. Harmon hailed from small towns in Georgia. Both had been in trouble with the law before. Days' prior convictions include aggravated battery and violating probation by possessing a firearm. Ms. Harmon's were for crack possession, shoplifting and driving without a license.

Her stepfather, John Henry Nolton of Butler, Ga., said he saw Ms. Harmon about a year ago at her sister's funeral. Now, he said, the family will head southbound for another somber gathering.

_ Staff researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.