TAMPA — Alex Stephens made national headlines last summer when a man he argued with about politics on Facebook came to his house and shot him twice.
Stephens, 46 at the time, recovered from gunshot wounds to his leg and buttocks.
Now more than a year later, Stephens is one of Tampa’s latest homicide victims, and his death has cast doubt on whether the attempted murder case against Brian Sebring, the man accused of shooting him in 2018 after the Facebook debate, will move forward.
Stephens was shot Nov. 26 at a home on West Ohio Avenue, according to two friends who spoke to the Tampa Bay Times but asked not to be identified because the killer is still at large.
The Tampa Police Department hasn’t released Stephens’ name and won’t confirm he’s the victim in the case because of the department’s interpretation of Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment designed to protect crime victims.
But the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner confirmed it is investigating Stephen’s Nov. 26 death. And at a status hearing for Sebring’s case on Monday, Assistant State Attorney Nathan Bahill said prosecutors needed time to decide whether they will move forward with the case because they believe Stephens is now dead.
“We believe the victim has been the victim of a homicide,” Bahill told Judge Mark Kiser. He did not elaborate.
Police have released few details about last week’s homicide in the 4000 block of West Ohio Avenue, in Tampa’s Sun Bay South neighborhood. Officers responding about 12:40 a.m. to a shooting call at a home there arrived to find a 48-year-old man dead inside the house.
Two friends who spoke to the Times confirmed Stephens is the victim in the case. Efforts to reach members of Stephens’ family were unsuccessful.
The circumstances surrounding Sebring’s shooting of Stephens last year, however, have been well-publicized in local and national news reports.
On Aug. 6, 2018, Stephens and Sebring got into what an arrest report would later call “a political argument" on Facebook. After receiving “several explicit messages and threats” from Stephens, Sebring went to the home on Wallace Avenue where Stephens was living at the time, according to the report.
Anticipating the confrontation would escalate, Sebring brought his AR-15 rifle and a Glock semi-automatic pistol, the report says. When he arrived at the home, Sebring honked his horn and waited by his truck.
Stephens came out of the home and “immediately charged/sprinted towards the defendant," who drew the pistol from a holster on his waist and fired two shots, striking Stephens in the right thigh and buttocks. Stephens ran away and Sebring fled the scene. He later contacted Tampa police to “turn himself in” and admitted to the shooting, the report said.
Sebring, now 46, was released the next day after posting $9,500 bail.
In an interview with the Times the day after his release, Sebring said he was responding to a felon who wrote that “even though he lost the right to vote, he wanted to share his political opinion.”
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Sebring characterized his reply as, “If you want to voice your opinion, don’t do criminal activity, don’t get caught, be a productive member of society.” He said Stephens, who had felony convictions in his past, sent him his address and told him to “come on over” if he wanted a fight, and to beep the horn if and when he showed up.
“I’m not a bad guy,” Sebring said in the interview, “but I mean, this guy threatened to hurt my family, and I went off the deep end. I wasn’t thinking right. You know, after this I’m going to go see a therapist or something, man, because that’s some scary s---, that I could lose my temper like that and do something so stupid.”
Sebring, who did have a concealed weapons permit, was initially charged with aggravate battery with a weapon and carrying a concealed firearm. Prosecutors later added an attempted second-degree murder charge.
The case was scheduled for trial in March 2020.
Sebring’s attorney, Bjorn Brunvand, said he planned to try to convince a jury that Sebring was acting in self defense under Florida’s stand your ground law. The law says people who fear they are about to be seriously hurt or killed do not need to attempt to flee before using force, and are later immune from prosecution.
Attorneys often seek to head off trial and get cases dropped by filing a stand your ground motion and seeking a hearing in front of a judge.
“I wanted to address it all in front of a jury,” Brunvand said.
Now that Stephens is dead, Brunvand says he will probably take a different approach.
“If the state does not agree to drop the charges, then we are inclined to do the stand your ground motion because it’s a completely different scenario than before," he said.
Kiser set a status hearing for Jan. 13.