LITHIA — Dalton Martin was at the house on Old Welcome Road the day before Halloween when two robbers barged in, beat and robbed a man and then fled as another resident opened fire on them with an assault-style rifle, investigators say.
Later, one of the victims demanded to know why he didn’t help fend off the robbers. The answer, investigators say: He was in on it.
Now the 19-year-old Mulberry man has been arrested and charged with second degree felony murder with a firearm because the resident who opened fire with the rifle hit one of the robbers, mortally wounding him, according to an arrest report. Joseph Michael Baez, 27, was found dead in a ditch not far from the house, records show.
Under Florida’s felony murder law, a suspect can be charged with murder if someone is killed during the commission of another felony. In this case, the armed home invasion resulted in Baez’s death, and Martin has admitted to playing a role in the crime, the report states.
The surviving robber who got away, 21-year-old Ty’Zae Robinson, was arrested in December on the same felony murder charge, records state. The crime is punishable by up to life in prison.
In an interview with investigators at his home on Dec. 22, Martin said he knew Baez and Robinson were going to barge in and rob 34-year-old Jeremy King that day while Martin was visiting the home, the report states. Martin said his role was to go to the residence and meet with King.
“He admitted to Mr. King yelling at him after the incident as to why he had not helped during the incident,” the report states.
Another line in the report points to Martin’s possible motive: “He admitted to receiving credit for an $800 debt he owed related to a narcotics transaction.”
Martin was arrested Feb. 18 and was being held Wednesday without bail in the Hillsborough County Jail. Records show he was on probation at the time of his arrest for a previous arrest for marijuana possession in Polk County.
The arrest reports for Martin and Robinson say what unfolded that day.
About 8:45 p.m., an 11-year-old girl at the home called 911 and said two masked men had entered the house on the 100 block of Old Welcome Road, robbed them and injured her father. King then got on the phone and said the suspects pistol-whipped him. King said his wife Casey Johns shot at the men with his “AR" rifle, the report states.
Responding deputies searched the area and found Baez’s body partially submerged in a water-filled drainage ditch. Near his body, investigators found a 9 mm Glock handgun, gloves, a mask with a skeleton design, money and a backpack.
An autopsy the next day revealed Baez died from a gunshot wound to the back that resulted in a perforated lung.
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In interviews with Johns and the girl, detectives learned that a man later identified as Martin showed up at the home just before the robbery and began to talk to King. The man had been at the home on prior occasions, the girl told detectives.
The girl said she was in the kitchen unloading groceries when two men came in the back door, told everyone to get on the ground and demanded money from King. One of the men was wearing a plain mask, the other wore a mask with a skeleton design.
Johns was in a back bedroom at the time, heard the commotion, saw the two men and went to her room and retrieved the rifle, according to the report. She went to the living room but couldn’t figure out how to work the rifle. When one of the robbers pointed his gun at her, King got up and attacked the man wearing the skeleton mask. Then both robbers attacked King.
Johns retreated to a bedroom to try to figure out the rifle and then heard screaming. When Johns saw the robber in the plain mask walking in the kitchen toward the back door, she fired one shot. Both robbers fled through the back door.
The girl told investigators the visiting man, later identified as Martin, fled during the robbery. Johns, the girl, and a four-year-old child home at the time were not injured, though at one point one of the robbers pulled the 11-year-old girl to the ground by the hair, put a gun to her head and threatened to shoot her if King did not comply, the reports state.
King was taken to a local hospital to be treated for a broken nose and several cuts on his face. He later admitted to detectives that he occasionally sells marijuana out of the house and that the robbers took about $300 from him, according to the reports.
Detectives later learned that 24-year-old Kiara Ragins picked up Robinson in her Ford sedan on Old Welcome Road immediately after the home invasion and was aware of the robbery, according to the report. Ragins was arrested Dec. 15 and charged with being an accessory after the fact to second degree felony murder, a misdemeanor.