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St. Petersburg man facing death penalty now free after charges dropped

Charles Hixon was released after the prosecution’s key witness changed her story.

ST. PETERBURG — Charles Edward Hixon Jr. once faced two first-degree murder charges. If convicted, prosecutors sought to have him killed by lethal injection.

But their plans fell apart last month after a key witness — who previously said she saw Hixon do it — recanted her testimony. Prosecutors dropped the charges. Hixon, 31, was released from jail Sept. 27. He had been in for almost a year.

“I was innocent,” Hixon said Thursday outside his St. Petersburg home. “I said that from the hour they questioned me.”

Hixon was accused in the Oct. 16, 2018 killing of Cheryl Lee Casey, 58, and Kenneth Lee Shook, 35. Their bodies were found that morning near a green pickup truck in an alley off 14th Avenue S., just west of 16th Street. Both died of gunshot wounds, police said.

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Detectives found Hixon’s fingerprints in the pickup, and he had some of their possessions on him when he was arrested.

Angela Thurman, who said Hixon was her best friend, was the prosecution’s key witness. Under oath, she told a grand jury that she saw Hixon pull the trigger. It was enough for the jury to indict Hixon.

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“She said she saw him kill them," said Assistant State Attorney Doug Ellis, "and that put all that together.”

Then Thurman upended the whole case.

In a Sept. 26 deposition, during which Thurman was again under oath, she changed her whole story. She said she didn’t see Hixon do it. Instead, she told lawyers she and Hixon found the victims after they had been shot and that Hixon stole from their bodies. That’s why he had their possessions, and that’s why his prints were all over.

She said she was coerced by St. Petersburg police investigators into lying. She said they found her with a crack pipe and threatened her with charges if she didn’t say what they wanted her to say, and that one detective slammed her against a wall for being uncooperative. Police deny there was any coercion, said department spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez. She said Thurman has not filed any complaints against the department, and it was the first time investigators had heard of the wall slamming allegation.

Thurman’s story matched with what prosecutors said Hixon told them. According to his account, he found Casey and Shook after they had been shot. He kicked Shook and his eyelids fluttered. He said he stole from the bodies.

But without Thurman’s eyewitness testimony, Ellis said there was not enough evidence Hixon committed the murders.

“The right thing was not to go forward,” he said.

With Hixon now free, the murders remain unsolved. Police said they continue to investigate. Fernandez would not say if there are additional suspects.

Both Hixon and Thurman have criminal histories. Thurman has been arrested six times in Pinellas County since 2016, mostly on drug charges. She now faces a felony charge of perjury, for making contradictory statements while under oath.

Hixon, who now faces no charges in the case, has been arrested nine times in Pinellas County, on charges that include drug possession and armed robbery.

Hixon said he’s focusing on the future. He’s been doing odd jobs since his release, and hopes to enroll in a metalsmithing program soon. And he plans to marry his longtime girlfriend, Melissa Minton, next month.

Minton remained devoted to her now-fiance, visiting him 93 times during his year in jail on the murder charges, she said. When she found out prosecutors were pursuing the death penalty against Hixon, she said they’d have to kill her, too.

“Because I’m nothing without him."